The Congress is back in the news for its brand of subtle divisive politics. This party doesn't do it as explicitly as the 'in your face' MNS or the Shiv Sena or for that matter the much demonized 'anti-secular' BJP, but, does it nonetheless. If the Congress can feel the need to appease the majority despite its already comfortable vote margins, we can only hope to understand the desperation of the others.
MNS was criticized by Congress for trying to incite divisive sentiments among the people of Mumbai. Despite this criticism, the Congress Government chose to sit on the sidelines when North Indian taxi drivers were attacked in the city. This silence on the part of the Government made it complicit in the act.
I remember taking home a taxi on the morning of 30th April, 2009, the day of Lok Sabha polling in Mumbai. Out of curiosity, I asked the taxi driver who he was planning to vote. I was actually shocked when he replied, "MNS". This is what he had to say "Sir Congress ko vote dekar bhi kya fayada? Koi bhi kabhi bhi maar kar chala jaata hai, gaadi todh deta hai. Kam se kam jab MNS ke haath mein gaddi hogi to woh maregi to nahin."
Well, either due to these factors or through Marathi loyalty, MNS has gained significant ground. Congress, seeing its base erode, has now jumped onto the 'Marathi' bandwagon.
The proposed rule says, "New taxi licenses to only those who are well versed in Marathi and have resided in the state for at least 15 years" http://news.rediff.com/report/2010/jan/20/dont-know-marathi-no-taxi-permit-for-you-in-maharashtra.htm
I wonder if this is constitutionally valid. Fundamental rights, Art.19(1)(e), 19(1)(g) and 16(2) taken together imply that any person in India can reside and work in any part of the country. Work is subject to reasonable restrictions in the interest of general public and the requirements of professional or technical qualifications. In addition, no person can be discriminated, in respect of any office under the State, on the basis of residence.
16. (1) There shall be equality of opportunity for all citizens in matters relating to employment or appointment to any office under the State.
(2) No citizen shall, on grounds only of religion, race, caste, sex, descent, place of birth, residence or any of them, be ineligible for, or discriminated against in respect of, any employment or office under the State.
19(1) All citizens shall have the right—
(a) to freedom of speech and expression;
(b) to assemble peaceably and without arms;
(c) to form associations or unions;
(d) to move freely throughout the territory of India;
(e) to reside and settle in any part of the territory of India;
(g) to practise any profession, or to carry on any occupation, trade or business."
Thus, in light of the above, the need for Marathi can probably still be justified, but how can the Government justify the 15 year domicile requirement? Granting a license, though not technically equivalent to admitting a person to an office under the State, is still a power exercised by the State.
Congress, in all probability, knows this. My guess - It just wants to use the opportunity to say, "We tried"!
- Rohit KumarThe author is an alumnus of IIT Bombay and an active part of Governance initiatives in India. He can be reached at rohit02 [at] gmail.com. The opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author and are not necessarily subscribed to by GovernIndia or its members.