By the late nineteenth and early twentieth century Bombay as a colonial city had become a manufacturing cluster, an important trading centre with a port that exported and imported a significant amount of the country’s goods. Its major industry was textile – a labour-intensive sector and as it expanded, engineering and chemical factories grew around it as ancillaries.

At the turn of independence, Bombay was recognised as the country’s premier industrial city having not only the above-mentioned industries together with its most important port but it had also become the site for the small but growing electronics industry.

In 1960s the chemical industry had grown into oil refineries and in the late 60s the petrochemical industry had been established in the city’s outskirts-the Thane-Belapur region. D’Monte has argued that even then, that is in 1961, “manufacturing (was) accounting for 41 percent of employment and half of its income”. In addition, since the early twentieth-century Bombay had become a financial hub with most businesses and corporates having its headquarters in this city.

After the 1960s, the ICT sector also developed in the city and in 1973 the first IT park and export processing zone in India – Santacruz Electronics Export Processing Zone (SEEPZ) – was started. It thus became a site for educational and artistic activities and promoted a vibrant liberal cosmopolitan public sphere reflecting the concerns and the politics of Bombay’s early migrants – the Gujaratis, the Parsis, the Sindhis and the Punjabis together with those from the South of India. By independence these groups had become the city’s economic and political elite.

The above-mentioned trends defined the city till May 1, 1960, when the city in whose name the province was titled the Bombay State was divided into two on the basis of linguistic criteria. These two new States – Maharashtra being Marathi speaking and Gujarat being Gujarati speaking – emerged consequent to the growth of two linguistic movements and Bombay became the capital of Maharashtra.

Subsequent to this division, the city’s and the State’s politics saw a change as the Maratha caste based in the western regions of Maharashtra reaped the benefit of the linguistic movement to gain political power. These changes affected the State’s public cultures which was dominated by Bombay city’s intellectual and cultural concerns. It diluted the hegemonic role of Bombay’s multi-language business elite and its then English-speaking middle classes which had grown under the shadow of colonialism and reasserted themselves after independence.

From the 1960s onwards there was also a slow erosion of the English language-dominated public sphere that Bombay’s upper classes had created around the principles of democracy, liberality, cosmopolitanism, and secularism but which had excluded from its discourse and practices the city’s increasing Marathi-speaking publics. These political changes made possible the creation of a Marathi language-dominated public sphere whose benefits were used by the Shiv Sena (established in 1966) on a majoritarianism principle-Bombay for the Marathi manoos. This principle helped it incorporate the expanding subaltern voices of Maharashtrian migrants into its political concerns.

A file photograph of Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray. Credit: AFP.

Over time, its need for political power promoted shifting populist ideas and ideologies, a pragmatist political approach with business and corporate groups and an authoritarian and vigilante politics. The party also sought and created an uneasy alliance with some of the city’s old and new middle classes as it reoriented itself to profess a new form of majoritarianism in coalition with the BJP – that of Hindutva.

The democratic processes implemented after independence promoted the inclusion of the excluded and subaltern voices of the city, while it also permitted the legitimacy of illiberal solutions and non-democratic movements in party organisations and within regimes in Bombay and Maharashtra.

It is our argument that from the 1960s onwards the city faced major demographic, economic, political and cultural challenges. The regimes at the Centre, the State and the local level together with the political elite controlling these were unable to present a coherent and coordinated urban approach to the issues facing the city. Second, this lack of an urban vision led the political elite and the state’s authorities to intervene piecemeal to resolve issues facing the city. It set up committees after committees which led to policy interventions as and when these confronted them.

Consequently, we see a multiplicity of ideas, strategies and authorities (new parastatals) handling issues and problems faced by the urban populace. Of course, such short-term solutions were related to the concerns of majoritarian parties to use the electoral system to consolidate and/or retain power thereby to ensure rent seeking and to mobilise existing and new patronage structures for furthering political influence. However, these concerns were also related to the shrinking of accountability and transparency in governance, a securitisation of the state, an attempt to stifle dissent among citizens and an aversion to engage with alternative urban visions being formulated by those who did not accept majoritarian practices.

Structural changes in the city’s economy and politics were solved through the valorisation and advocacy of informal work and labour, reclamation, deregulation and re-regulation of land to create real estate and privatisation of social infrastructure. Consequently, by the mid-1990s there was a legitimacy for a neo-liberal order which took as solutions the interests of the business groups and corporates. This discourse was initially put in practice by the Sharad Pawar-led regime in 1991, was formally initiated by the SS-BJP government in 1995 and extended by the coalitions that ruled Bombay and Maharashtra since then.

We thus argue that there has been a deficit of strategies from the regime on major urban concerns that could benefit the emerging middle-classes of the city but who did not have a) access to continuous, secure and safe employment, b) access to physical infrastructure (housing, sanitation, potable water, electricity, transport, clean air, and open spaces); c) access to public social infrastructure (health and education) and thus d) access to long-term reproduction of life and wellbeing (food, nutrition, art, creativity, freedom and happiness).

And given that Maharashtra was and is becoming urbanised at a fast pace, this deficit of ideas and visions, and strategies has had and will have a major implication on the State’s future. Below we trace the processes and practices that created the discourse and practices of majoritarian neoliberalism in Mumbai.

Excerpted with permission from Mumbai/Bombay: Majoritarian Neoliberalism, Informality, Resistance, and Wellbeing, edited by Sujata Patel, D Parthasarathy and George Jose, Routledge India.