For shim­mer­ing nights ahead

Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - - FRONT PAGE - AYAZ MEMON

Shiv Sena’s Aa­ditya Thack­eray has re­vived his big push for Mum­bai’s nightlife. He wants restau­rants, etc, to be open till 6 am. Last week at an event per­tain­ing to the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try, he asked, “How can some­thing that is le­gal in the day, be­come il­le­gal af­ter mid­night?’’

The ar­gu­ment is co­gent, but dis­pute over what ‘nightlife’ con­sti­tutes has had the idea in cold stor­age for a while now. As far back as 2013, the BMC had passed a pro­posal for ex­tend­ing time lim­its, if not re­store it to what it used to be 25-30 years back.

Af­ter due dili­gence, the pro­posal was cleared by the Mum­bai po­lice too. But progress in im­ple­ment­ing it since then has been ter­ri­bly slug­gish be­cause the is­sue is mired in pol­i­tics. Dif­fer­ent par­ties see their gains – or oth­er­wise – dif­fer­ently, re­sult­ing in com­plete in­ac­tion. Sena’s con­tention, prop­a­gated by Aa­ditya, is that re­viv­ing nightlife will boost Mum­bai’s tourism and econ­omy. Whether this re­flects a gen­er­a­tional shift at the party’s helm, is a short-term mea­sure at win­ning next year’s BMC elec­tions or, in fact, sug­gests a pol­icy churn in the Sena, is an in­trigu­ing ques­tion.

Of course, along with its hard stand on is­sues like re­li­gion and its long game with iden­tity pol­i­tics, the Thack­er­ays have al­ways had an­other side to them: strong con­nec­tions with the film in­dus­try and nexuses with night­clubs (like Drum Beat, some­times known as Earth­quake, at Tardeo): apart, of course, from host­ing the fa­mous Michael Jackson con­cert in the city in the 1990s. But the young Thack­eray’s de­sire to make Mum­bai a cos­mopoli­tan hotspot with a flour­ish­ing nightlife is at odds with the gen­eral po­lit­i­cal di­rec­tion that Mum­bai – and the state — has been on for a while. The NCP, for ex­am­ple, worked hard to de­stroy Mum­bai’s lib­eral ethos with its fo­cus on small town ‘moral­ity’ for a large and bustling city.

Congress, the NCP’S ally in the UPA stood by and watched as dance bars were closed, women who worked there ha­rassed and vil­i­fied.

The cur­rent govern­ment, un­der fire from the Supreme Court in the mat­ter of dance bars and women de­riv­ing liveli­hood from it, is seem­ingly at odds with it­self. Shiv Sena, led by Aa­ditya, has pur­pose­fully pur­sued a dif­fer­ent path.

His stri­dency and ur­gency could be be­cause this al­lows the Sena to es­cape the claus­tro­pho­bic hold of the se­nior party in the al­liance. Since the Bjp-led NDA came to power at the Cen­tre, re­gard­less of what the prime minister may say, fringe el­e­ments with their var­i­ous so­cial prej­u­dices and hard­line at­ti­tudes have come to the fore­front in ev­ery state.

That has di­min­ished the value for other par­ties with sim­i­lar agen­das. The Sena’s own iden­tity pol­i­tics has been hi­jacked by the Ma­ha­rash­tra Navnir­man Sena, and Raj Thack­eray’s out­rage against Pak­istani artistes in Mum­bai since the Uri at­tack be­ing the lat­est ex­am­ple. In any case, flog­ging the Pak­istan bo­gey is pay­ing greater div­i­dend to the BJP rather than smaller re­gional par­ties.

Aa­ditya’s pro­posal to keep pubs and restau­rants open late, while in con­flict with other move­ments within the right-wing agenda, looks based in well thought through re­alpoli­tik. Seen in con­junc­tion with the thrust for foot­ball he is giv­ing in the city, it adds up to a canny at­tempt to ex­pand the Sena’s po­lit­i­cal space. There is overt ap­peal to the young through sport. Si­mul­ta­ne­ously, job and life­style as­pi­ra­tions within his party cadres — as in­deed for the short-term gain in the BMC elec­tions — could also be ad­dressed if the ex­tended nightlife pro­posal moves ahead quickly.

How this plays out re­mains to be seen, but seems like an in­ter­est­ing gam­bit which could im­pact the city’s pol­i­tics and life­style if the pro­posal goes through with­out too much di­lu­tion.

Of course, on a wider can­vas, as Aa­ditya Thack­eray should know, Mum­bai be­ing lib­eral is in spite of its politi­cians and their shenani­gans. The city’s live and let live ethos has been be­cause of the peo­ple — ei­ther born here or those who come here to re­alise their dreams.

What makes Mum­bai unique is it a place where you are free to be your­self. What needs to be en­sured is that this is never re­ferred to in the past tense.

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