Saving the tiger, and Thackeray

February 22nd, 2010

It is ironic that a tiger is the mascot for the Shiv Sena. Because both are rather publicly fighting for survival. At the heart of both battles, however, lies a phenomenon that has almost always evoked strong reactions: migration.

From a basal perspective, the Sena and India’s endangered national animal are fighting to save their respective turfs from outsiders.

Although the analogy is far from complete, what brings the two further together is that both are failing to realise that their survival lies not in evicting the itinerants. Rather, defining the ‘insiders’, as it were, and embracing the migrants is essential for their continuity.

Initiated in 1972, Project Tiger was India’s biggest chance of saving the big cat. But as has been declared recently, only 1,411 of them are left in the country. Sometime in the 1990s, their number stood at 3,500. Clearly, something has gone wrong. And it is not just the lack of money.

A few leading conservationists are steadfast in their belief that the relocation of villagers who live in and around the 40-odd tiger reserves in the country must be undertaken to save the tiger. Primarily, the lack of employment opportunities juxtaposed against a booming economy often drives those who live in the vicinity of these reserves into the lucrative ‘tiger trade’.

At the risk of oversimplifying the complexities, a possible solution would be to integrate them into these projects as some sort of stakeholders. After all, most of these communities have shared a historical relationship with the tiger. Without them, protecting one of the most awesome creatures to walk the forests of India will be next to impossible.

However, the questions remain: who exactly are these stakeholders and what should be their actual stake in these projects? Who should stay and which section have to be relocated? How much responsibility should be invested in whom?

These are yet to be answered comprehensively. One can only hope that the voices of the stakeholders will be given a fair hearing. Thankfully, Union Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has shown a seeming affinity for public consultations, so far.

In the jungle that is Mumbai, the situation isn’t altogether that different. The Sena is the ‘tiger’. In that the organisation’s mascot is the national animal, maybe it enjoys the particular anthropomorphism.

The Marathi Manoos, the Sena claims, are those it has shares an ethnic relationship with. Not unlike the association between India’s four-legged tiger and the villagers that live in and around the forests.

Here, too, the difficulty lies in defining the demographic entity. Mumbai, like much of the country, is a fascinating smörgåsbord of peoples and cultures. But then, possibly the ‘Bun Maska’ really is anti-Marathi.

More importantly, though, it is hard to imagine that the Marathi Manoos, whomsoever they might be, would want all the others to pack their bags and leave a city shaped by over a century of multiculturalism.

In the disturbance that has erupted since taxi drivers were asked to take tuitions, the commoner has been relegated to the shadows. Most bow before the blow.

But as Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray continues to roar, he forgets that the Sena’s mascot is endangered today because it was hunted. And today, if the tiger has a future, it is because the huntsman has turned crusader.

But who will save the Sena when its fort crumbles, as it did in last year’s parliamentary and assembly polls? Certainly not a man called Khan.

 

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