It’s now been a year since we as a family moved north of the Vindhyas to the National Capital. On the economy class ( Sashi Tharoor famously called it Cattle Class) of a low cost airline it cost us a little over three thousand rupees per head to transcend the Vindhyas and arrive at the city, which in first impression never ends. Three thousand rupees per head is the cost of travel, it does not include the taxes, duties and penalties or in Toto the cost that one pays for having a capital dream. That cost is something like the CTC in corporate parlance, only it’s not cost to company but is cost to CONSCIENCE. CTC cannot be calculated in rupees, it comes out from time to time in the form of frustration, which in my case results in long frustrated writings on a blog that no one reads (barring of course a few jobless friend who in the name of courtesy endure it).
Some of you would know and for the rest if I may inform, I once lived in a city called Chennai. Home was five minutes from office, the idli was soft, smooth and five rupees or ten at the most, the filter coffee was excellent, much better than the exorbitant concoctions delivered by Costa and Coffee Day. Born with most of those things I did not realize how integral these were to my soul, till after I had lost them.
We all move and so I did, as a TV journalist got my mug shot more often on TV, much less work but much more on air. Also, went through a fantastic and rapid tutorial on the claim of knowing a bit of everything, learning how to speak with confidence the something that you don’t know and claiming to be whatever we all claim to be. Little bit or a lot like (depending on how frustrated you are) a parasite attaching itself to every bit of news coming in from every part of the country. Initially I thought it was the beast of television journalism that made being in the capital depressing and then I searched outside.
The swanky malls, the enormous roads that seem never ending, the endless list of people you cross through and trample upon each passing day, the inimitable promises you make and then don’t keep, the aggressive nature which creeps into you unnoticed, the killer instinct that kills the soul without evidence, these are all part of living in the National Capital (the same in Noida or any neighbour). And that’s when I recognized the headiness of being in the capital. It doesn’t matter which profession you are in the capital will get to you.
I may sound arrogant and frustrated about the city I describe, so be it, after all it’s a city which never sleeps, never wakes up, claims to live but can’t find a trace of life, has people but remains empty, and most importantly couldn’t care less about what any one else thinks and yet tries to live in an ostentatious show of wealth and power. What has amazed me in the last one year is the political class that thrives in this city. Smartly and comfortably perched in the comfort of the grandeur left behind by the British. Occupying every bit of what the Mughals and Lutens created and ruling over a vast, diverse, distinct and difficult country called India.
The capital does not forget that it’s great source of power emerges from the vast expanses that lie beyond its boundaries. We hail ourselves as a democracy, Oh yes we are, the power and authority for New Delhi to rule comes from the people – but the people’s role ends there. The MP’s we elect are governed by a coterie that lives and plagues the capital. That coterie consists of journalists, industrialists, dealmakers and sophisticated-socialites (who call their fake appearance the art of networking). It’s a careful blend of the most manipulated, manipulating and gullible. They feed into the power center that governs the country; they are the ones who use the power that is delivered by the people.
The disconnect between the source and the use of power is stark and is perhaps embodied in our system of parliamentary democracy, why else would we have then instituted a route for the erudite and governing elite to become parliamentarians without facing the people (I mean the Rajya Sabha). The idea is while the rest of India will do the dirty work and get its hands soiled for political representation and hence power the capital will bask in the glory and enjoy much of the fruit. Much like a parasite that not just rides but controls the beast that it rides on.
Now is this a fare assessment or am I being arrogant and dismissive of the capital’s abilities. Must give in here, it does have the ability to compromise, manage and gel different aspirations together. It’s important because elsewhere in the country we cannot understand and accept each other. Ghettoisation began in the name of language in the 1950’s and was cemented by the linguistic barriers we drew in the name of states. Since then if a regional power had to play a national role it had to be played out in the national capital. One region could not have any influence or acceptance on another as a political force and we depend on the capital to keep us together.
But then we should have evolved and the capital must have been made a manager and unifier, not the exploiter of our differences and have the sole propriety over power to rule the nation. Delhi’s politics today revolves in the drawing room, the negotiation skills, the perception managers and the claiming to be intellectuals with their great talent in capture of power without making genuine grass root effort is the first lesson in political school. And over the years this has permeated into the culture of the city and the DNA of the populace.
One of the first impressions made on me of Delhi was that if you do not aggressively fight back people would trample over you. It could be at the airport when you pick up a trolley or at a red light, the aggression hits you on the face. There are those who explain this aggression as a Punjabi trait and those who define it as the way things are done in the North. I have traveled to Punjab and other parts of North India. Yes the rules are thrown to the wind and the law is broken at will, but the arrogance of power is not the feeling I get. Feudal power play exists, but not the complete arrogance, the heart still remains palpable.
This has permeated to those who live and survive the capital and is now the culture that follows in every sphere of activity, the defining character of the populace. Mumbai because of financial strength has challenged that power, but it lacks the manipulation and heart-less aggression that Delhi has learnt, the city despite finesse and finances holds on to life and professionalism.
Capital’s around the world have a heady feeling, but do not ignore the nations expanses. Real democracy is where the capital is respected and the capital respects the rest. Where power is shared between those who provide it and those who manage it. My point of contention, after this long, bitter and frustrated attack on the capital, is that the rest of India should learn to be part of the governing process and the capital should lead the way with a change of attitude towards recognizing and respecting that the corners of India should be encouraged to think national and not be relegated to governing just their corners.