Elections: Oh, Delhi!
Editorial: February 2015
Delhi is hardly the capital it used to be many years ago — it’s now a cauldron of noisy and competing diversity. No longer is it a collection of some villages that went to sleep as soon as dusk descended on the imposing Raisina Hill where Rashtrapati Bhavan is majestically perched. Over the years, it has become informal, demanding, raucous and irreverent. For the past 15 years it may have defined the new paradigms of ordering urban spaces, organising new transport systems, and containing air pollution but all that seems so distant now. Delhi has mutated as the city of rage, political dissent and forebearer of change.
Three years ago, when the masses spilled out onto the streets demanding greater accountability from the government under the rubric of India Against Corruption (IAC), Delhi lost some of its stiffness and its resort to protocol whenever the ruling elite comes under pressure. Laws that remained unquestioned were subjected to intense scrutiny. For instance, why is Section 144 imposed by the police to curb the right to expression? When law enforcement agencies were forced on the back foot, a lot changed. Citizens ceased to be afraid of pedigree, entitlements and everything that God did not ordain. This empowering process of ordinary people spread rapidly to different parts of the country. The Congress government lost its legitimacy and everyone opposed to it won theirs.
Following the India Against Corruption agitation came the spontaneous outpouring of rage against the rape of a young woman in a running bus. Here again, while the rape was the trigger, it was the movement for creating safe spaces for women that caught world attention. The movement forced the nation to reflect on how women suffer because of the patriarchal nature of our society. Rape and sexual violence celebrated perversely in some popular filmi lyrics was a manifestation of what a feudal society thought of women. The government, nay, the entire political class was compelled to redraft the sexual harassment laws and promise strong punitive measures against rapists and sexual offenders.
Why we have been compelled to revisit some of the issues that caught the imagination of the people in the past few years is due to the fact that they continue to cast their shadow on our politics. Though Narendra Modi’s election campaign benefitted from the harm done to the Congress party by the anti-corruption campaign led by Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal, he managed to show that he had it in him to fulfil many of the demands that people were making at Delhi’s Ram Lila Maidan and elsewhere.
In the nine months that Modi has been in power at the centre, he has been testing an important thesis: can his development agenda triumph over a Delhi that prides itself on its institutional irreverence and liberal spaces, and anarchic politics? Modi’s worldview seems antithetical to everything that Delhi stands for and he has also asserted that he is an outsider in Delhi and views the capital differently. Pitted against him is Kejriwal, who may have benefitted from support of the right-wing forces during his anti-corruption agitation, but can safely claim ownership of much of what we have stated defines Delhi now. He represents everything desired by the new citizen who is averse to the archetypal politician and who clamours for transparency and accountability of rulers. The Congress party that ruled Delhi for 15 years and which rightly could command attention for creating an inclusive and secular city has been swept aside by the energy generated by Kejriwal’s Aam Aadmi Party and the heaving election machinery of the BJP. Who wins Delhi will decide how the quest for a strong opposition to the BJP government evolves in the coming days. Is Kejriwal an answer?