If high-rises are evidence of change, then Delhi has transformed from being a clutch of villages surrounding the palaces of Sultans and the Red Fort of Shahjahan to a monstrous city of skyscrapers.
The mammoth concrete buildings that dot the landscape are built on the ruins of humble beginnings of civilisation. Ravaged by invaders, beautified by conquerors and destroyed by usurpers. Delhi is a saga of inception, growth and destruction. Over and over again.
Its history is as chequered as the pock-marked pillars of antiquity that line the medieval city. Glorified in victory, humiliated in loss. Shifting of capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1912 had its own expediencies, as envisaged by the imperial viceroys and the powers that be. However, for a city that had been the seat of many dynasties for over eight centuries, it was a fresh lease of life. It was here that the foundation of modern India was laid. It was the seat of last of the mighty Mughals, and later became the seat of the first elected leader of the masses. It was here that monarchy breathed it’s last and it was here that democracy took birth, its first baby steps; floundered, rose again and started its journey. History of Delhi is not the history of a city, it’s not the tale of dynasties, conspiracies or plots alone, it is the tale of a nation, which is both old and new at once, as India’s first Prime Minister rightly said. It was here that a nation made its tryst with destiny. It’s here the fate and course of a nation is decided. Daily.
The sands of time have never been gracious to the city. Many a time, it has faced troubles that by right should not have fallen in its share. It was in this backdrop that I came across an article that described some triumphant scenes in Pakistan. The impromptu celebrations were triggered by the victory of one Arvind Kejriwal in the recent elections in Delhi. Our neighbours were joyous on learning that Kejriwal’s juggernaut had left major political parties like Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party battered, shattered and tattered in its wake. Such are our neighbours. They never miss a chance to rejoice in our destruction. However, what cannot be cured, should be endured. Haven’t we endured the multiple evil designs of our neighbour for over six decades? What difference would Kejriwal’s five years of misrule make? It’s not as if he can plunge Delhi to newer lows, his predecessors have amply demonstrated their skills in doing that.
What with the infighting surfacing within a month of the Aam Admi Party assuming power in the capital, it’s anybody’s guess how tumultuous the coming five years are going to be. The inception of this party can be traced to the movement launched by Anna Hazare in 2011. The movement and its objectives took masses by storm and thousands began thronging the ground where Anna began his crusade against corruption. Though a noble gesture, his own antecedents are not indubitable. He has weathered many a storm, surviving all with panache. The P B Sawant Commission indicting a trust run by the social worker, concluding corrupt practices and maladministration in the functioning of the said trust raises doubts over Hazare’s credentials.
Notwithstanding the controversies, Hazare grabbed the attention of the world with his unassuming, but steadfast dedication in wiping out the scourge of corruption from India. Coinciding with a period when the entire world was watching in awe the Arab Spring and the ouster of many a dictatorial regime, Indians too were mesmerised by the collective frenzy. Many attended the media-hyped protest in the hopes that the long overdue change was now due. Ably supporting Hazare were former bureaucrats Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. As if to lend a romantic voice to the proceedings, self-acclaimed heartthrob of modern youth, poet Kumar Vishwas too jumped into the ring. Several noted personalities from theatre and media too could not resist. Though the movement soon lost steam, the bureaucrats saw a golden opportunity to cash in on the goodwill this sojourn had created and soon announced the formation of a political party, making it look like they were compromising on principles much against their own wishes for the benefit of the common man. Kejriwal had stolen Hazare’s thunder. Protégé had outsmarted the teacher.
Hazare wasn’t impressed and made known his displeasure and retired to Ralegan Siddhi. However, his acolyte had learnt his lesson and launched a massive campaign for the Delhi election. Promises of free water, nearly free electricity and corruption free governance later, his party managed to garner 27 out of 70 seats. Though Congress was decimated in the polls, it had enough manpower to tilt the balance in Aam Admi Party’s favour. This despite the fact that Kejriwal had gone all guns blazing against the Congress in the hustings and summarily rejected any notion of alliance with the party. However, it did not prevent him from forging an alliance and forming the government.
49 days later, after leading a series of agitations and protests, Kejriwal resigned, citing how difficult it was to run a minority government with the help of arch enemies. It’s another matter that his own loyalists have accused him of trying to poach Congress MLAs even as he was trying to persuade the Lieutenant Governor to call for another election. Such is politics and such are the agents of change.
Later, during the Lok Sabha hustings, Kejriwal apologised to the people for not being able to deliver on his promises. Though he tried to project himself as a martyr and garner sympathy votes, he failed miserably, and turned his attention back on Delhi, from where he had set forth on the journey to achieve his political ambitions. He levelled unsubstantiated accusations against all and sundry, got some mud slinged at himself as well. Even as he prepared the ground for a Delhi encore, his trusted lieutenants began deserting camp one by one. Shazia Ilmi and Kiran Bedi switched to BJP camp and began their diatribe against the autocratic Kejriwal. Mass poet Vishwas virtually kicked the bucket, with his racial slur against Malayalee nurses going viral on social media; while other leaders courted trouble over a plethora of issues, including jingoistic racism.
However, Delhi election was to set a precedent. Kejriwal won by a margin that would have made Sheik Mujibur Rehman proud and Bhutto squirm in his grave. Modi-Shah combine failed, and doubts were cast on how good their political wisdom was. Be that as it may, the result was for everyone to see. The capital was conquered. The ambition achieved. Many were vanquished and the loyalists rewarded. In the past few days, some eminent personalities have been shown the door. Kejriwal is battling an internal rebellion. He would have now realised to his horror that power is a mean mistress, demanding a lot, giving little in return and sometimes snatching away from you the brothers-in-arms, who made you what you are. So much for loyalty.
Delhi has always been a contested seat of power. Local chieftains were decimated by the Sultans, who were ousted by one Hemu, who in turn was pushed into oblivion on the fields of Panipat by a 13-year-old Akbar, paving the way for the Mughal Empire. The last scion of the mighty Mughals was banished from the country by the British, who ruled the various Indias by pitching sections against sections. In true sense, India began its journey towards political sobriety after Congress as a platform was given to the intelligentsia to vent their angst and ire. Over the years, many leaders emerged and occupied the scene for a brief while before being shunted to obscurity. In came barristers Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru with their own brand of politics and captivated the nation with their charismatic persona. After decades of struggle, India gained its independence. Jawaharlal Nehru assumed the charge of a young nation, still nursing the wounds of partition. One sultanate gave way to another. On the ruins of an imperialistic monarchy, the custodian of Indian democracy created his own autocracy and built an empire. The fiefdom of Congress emerged.
The Sultan mentored his daughter, for time would come when she would become the heir. Just like Iltutmish, Nehru prepared Indira to take over the reins when the time came. And the time soon came. Daughter of an autocrat, the modern age Razia turned the entire Indian political scene topsy-turvy with the sword of emergency, which she drew from her scabbard of unbridled and absolute power after the scale of justice titled in favour of truth. Against her.
A resounding drubbing later, the autocrat emerged again in the 1980s, ruffled some religious feathers and was assassinated. Thousands of sikhs were killed in the wake of her murder and her son famously remarked
When a mighty tree falls, the earth shakes
This son, Rajiv, would assume the throne and make an ignominious exit after a corrupt defence deal makes it to the public domain. A few years later, he would be assassinated by a terrorist group, leaving behind a young and politically innocent heir-apparent. In absence of a ruler, young Rahul’s mother plays Maham Anaga, all the while insisting on remaining behind the scenes, for it gave her immense power without accountability and enough leg room to expand in comfort. It was a win-win situation for her. There was no check on her power. One puppet after another would come, do her bidding and vanish, until the heir-apparent stakes his claim on his throne.
However, the family’s political ambitions were jolted by a Gujrati. The man rose through ranks by dint of his determination and staked claim on the highest seat of power. The fiefdom was breached. The illusion of absolute power shattered and grandeur of lineage broken. Another dynasty was bettered by a usurper. History had repeated itself.
However, the irony is while Modi governs India from Delhi through bureaucrats, the ruler of Delhi is a retired bureaucrat himself, well versed in the nuances of the trade. The defeat of BJP in the Delhi polls poses serious questions on how well his vision rhetoric was bought by the common man. Kejriwal owes his success to the mass movement masterminded by Hazare. A movement in which the part became more than the sum and changed the entire equation forever. Delhi is an indication. Kejriwal cannot be faulted if he devises national ambitions. History is replete with examples of even the best laid plans being foiled by clowns. Gone are the days when swords were the sole arbiter of justice. Democracy has put the power of allotting power to the people. It’s the gentry that decides who would govern for them. Though given the right to choose, Delhi has had precious little to choose from. Kejriwal was seemingly lesser of three evils, and people chose him. If Pakistanis are happy at the result, it is something to be wary of. It’s too early to say now how Kejriwal would fare, but given the indications, one cannot help but say:
Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
Delhi, you made the choice and now it’s up to you how you fare. Things may pan out well for you, I wish. But as far as the script goes and from what history has taught, Good Luck Delhi.