Mumbai belongs to India, say the English and Hindi media of India. The Constitution gave all Indians the right to live and work in any part of the country, but not a title deed for the entire nation. There is something almost imperialistic and authoritarian in the ‘Mumbai belongs to India’ assertion. At one level it reflects the special place the maximum city has in the Indian imagination, but it also reflects a mixture of anxiety and envy, anxiety at the relative lack of opportunities in the North, wherein losing access to Mumbai would mean losing access to desperately needed jobs and upward mobility, envy at the (mostly ill-informed) notion that the citizens of the city have somehow escaped the almost feudal hierarchies of North India.
Mumbai does not belong to India, just like Lucknow does not belong to India. They are cities, not cattle. Belonging (in this context) means controlling, and the people who are supposed to control Mumbai or Lucknow or Aizawl or Leh are supposed to be the living, breathing citizens who have a stake in the everyday state of affairs in the city. The fact that Mumbai, Bangalore or Delhi issues become ‘national issues’ indicates grave problems in how we see ourselves as a society and a polity. Asking any old Hyderabadi to weigh in on Mumbai or Maharashtra issues is dangerous and condescending. There are plenty of national issues in India, but ironically the decisions on such issues, for eg trade agreements, are often made without a national debate or even consulting elected reps from states that might be affected.
Too much of Indian ‘nationalism’ is about owning and belonging instead of helping and supporting. Places are constantly dehumanized so that they become objects which can be claimed or owned. But what about the people who live there ? Mumbai does belong to Mumbaikars, the 17 million odd who work, sweat, struggle and relax in the city everyday. Biharis, Tamils, Manipuris and Kashmiris are welcome to visit, live, stay and become Mumbaikars, but you have to let they city own you before you can say whom it belongs to.