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Delhi in total transit

Delhi in total transit
How has Delhi changed? On the one hand, the city-state has now become a great location of socio-cultural miscegenation ever since the launch of the economic liberalisation programme 25 years ago. A Haryanvi boy can now live with someone from Bihar, cheek by jowl, in a way that the two could have makkay ki roti with aloo ka chokha, without ever saying Jai Hanuman.

On the other hand, it has remained the same. Delhi was always known for its heinous crimes, particularly against women. Changing lifestyles that follow altered demographics have raised the incidents of rape and molestation to a level that can turn your stomach.

Those from the small towns adjoining Delhi – overgrown villages consisting of neo-literates and the neo-middle class – can barely comprehend the changes that arises from high consumerism. The above phenomenon followed racy economic changes.

This ‘youth bulge’ has its negatives. But there are also many positives. The ‘new’ Delhi has seen three elections in three years. Two years ago – in 2013 - was the Delhi Legislative Assembly election. It saw the emergence of a political party that had earlier been a platform for fighting corruption, nepotism and cronyism of key ruling regimes.

Its single point agenda was to stop corruption. But interestingly, they do not restrict themselves to calling out governmental skullduggery. They target private sector pilferage as well. This is the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP).

In the past few years, AAP has often been criticised for not putting out a broader vision of contemporary society. You know the usual stuff – their economic agenda, their political agenda – all which is geared for change, root and stem. This column too has looked at them askance for those missing pieces.

But a friend recently explained the apparent anomaly. In a rhetorical style that cuts through the thicket of empty phrases, he asked, “What was the most common headline in newspapers of all languages of the country in the last 25 years?” He replied, “Corruption.” The AAP represents the deep angst of the neo-middle class, which typically is also young in age. They seem to have hit the kernel of the young political being in Delhi. In the process, they looked as if they have changed the ‘grand narrative’ of politics in the country. Or have they?

After 2013, came 2014. We saw rhetorical excesses of the highest nature in the campaign launched by the Bharatiya Janata Party. Narendra Modi’s highfalutin words; his insistent travel – albeit in private jets so that he could sleep in his own bed every night in Ahmedabad - that appeared to symbolise his ‘dynamism’; his ‘chai wallah’-meets-Barack Obama storyline fed into the ‘aspirational’ drive of the neo-middle class.

The latter are less sure about their economic and political status or their ability to cling to it; while, of course the overarching argument is that of communal polarisation. Minus that, the phenomenon could seem to dial back to the days of Rajiv Gandhi, without a debilitating assassination. The AAP seemed still-born, washed away in the miasma of verbiage.

But this past week showed that aspiration can be so all-consuming – like 100-metre runners on steroids – that when unshackled, can seldom be contained. So, the aspiring classes of the ‘new’ Delhi showed they have lost patience with Modi as the Russians did historically with Mikhail Gorbachev, when his ‘perestroika’ opened the proverbial ‘window on the attic.’     

Come February 2015, the AAP is back on the horizon of Delhiites. Not because it upended the challenge of what is called the ancient regime, yet; but because they have fashioned a narrative that appeals to those who face oppression – may be in small doses – everyday.

If the results, scheduled to be announced on Tuesday, show that AAP has won, it could provide the party a launch pad for an all-India foray in 2019.

But then, they would have to locate themselves within the rubric of a narrative of exploitation, disenfranchisement and dispossession that is directly related to capitalism, when used as a governing principle of social organisation. They will have to create an agenda that is not just progressive in terms of catching thieves; but that corrects the course of Indian society.

Some Indian writers have failed to see the commonality between the rise of Syriza in Greece – a rainbow coalition of left parties – and the AAP. The Greek Pasok party – practicing social democracy with its debt-ridden ‘happy days’ – or New Democracy, with its fiscal agenda of austerity or nothing, was up for disaster.

The AAP, on the comeback mode, is Syriza, underwhelmed. But then the time will come when they will have to account for being a ‘party of government.’ And that is when the Establishment will put up the real fight. One will hope to be around when that time does come.

This piece about Delhi will not be complete without quoting Khushwant Singh, the only original Delhiite at one time – thus barring those who have been pushed to the edge of the city limits - in a town full of babus, bibis and babalogs of yore on a revolving door. Singh had written in his novel ‘Delhi’ – “I return to my mistress (Delhi) after whoring around the world.” Everybody seeking growth has to come home to Delhi. Let’s see how AAP accounts for rent.

The author is a senior journalist
Pinaki Bhattacharya

Pinaki Bhattacharya

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