The new government in Maharashtra has taken an important step forward. State Tourism and Environment Minister Aaditya Thackeray
has announced that January 27 onwards, some commercial establishments will be permitted to stay open around the clock. Malls, restaurants, and multiplexes in India’s commercial capital of Mumbai
will be allowed to define their own opening hours, which, Mr Thackeray said, would boost tourist income and help “make Mumbai
an international city”. To start off, the transformed mill complexes of central Mumbai, the modern Bandra Kurla Complex, and the old downtown of Nariman Point would be granted this dispensation; presumably, this would be extended further if it worked. The Bharatiya Janata Party, a former ally of Mr Thackeray’s Shiv Sena and is now in the Opposition, has objected to the proposal, saying that people would “drink all night”, although the 1:30 am deadline for serving alcohol has not been extended. Hopefully, that deadline too will be relaxed in time.
The fact is that Mumbai
has long had the reputation of being one of those global cities that never sleep. This has been the subject of song and story, including in some Bollywood movies — which are always ready to praise and mythologise the city of their conception and birth. An artificial deadline for commercial establishments ran counter to Mumbai’s own notion of itself, and could never last. Other cities in India have blown hot and cold on the subject of late hours. Kolkata, once the nightlife
capital of India, experimented with early closing hours after some well-publicised law and order incidents; but these have gradually been relaxed again, though they are yet to approach the freedoms enjoyed in its heyday. The fact is, while 24/7 hours are desirable, much depends upon the institutional capacity of the city in question to maintain the security of night-time revellers. Not only will the police have to work harder to ensure safety, but other regulatory agencies — those that keep an eye on fire safety, for example — will also need to step up their game. Nor should, ideally, these longer opening hours be restricted to those able to afford private transport to the commercial centres of the city. Mumbai's legendary suburban trains traditionally ran till past 1 am — the last train used to pull into Borivali station after 2 am, in fact. Indian Railways should consider if one or two additional trains could be arranged for the dark hours between 2 and 4 am. There is no reason why maintenance cannot occur alongside, as happens in many other major cities around the world.
It is significant, however, that Mr Thackeray’s Shiv Sena is the party to push for this change. The Sena has long been associated in the public mind with a more restrictive image of the city once called Bombay. Yet there have long been signs that it has sought to evolve in certain ways. Across the world, urban right-wing parties have also been in some ways more permissive about the basics of city life — which is not as strange a contradiction as it appears. Even parties concerned about the defence of identity have to respond to evolution in the nature of that identity, and the “indigenous” Mumbaikar that the Shiv Sena has always laid claim to is not the same in the 2020s as in the 1970s. There has been some comment that the Sena wishes to reinvent itself as the sort of regional party that has shown resilience in other states in the face of the BJP’s creeping hegemony, and perhaps this is one of the way-stations on that transformation. Much depends upon how it administers this and any subsequent moves in a more liberal direction. Mumbai is already a great global city. It not only deserves a nightlife
in keeping with this status, but also political parties that recognise this status and want to burnish it.