FOCUS: An Epic Victory In Delhi

Delhi is a city of ruins and relics; temples and tombs. It’s also India’s most sensuous and sybaritic metropolis. It’s a capital of political chaos, intrigues and traffic jams. In
13 Feb 2015 09:50
FOCUS: An Epic Victory In Delhi
Aam Aadmi Party, or Common Man’s Party, leader Arvind Kejriwal greets supporters during a public meeting in New Delhi

Delhi is a city of ruins and relics; temples and tombs. It’s also India’s most sensuous and sybaritic metropolis. It’s a capital of political chaos, intrigues and traffic jams.

In between a visitor will see green trees and gardens full of flowers; next to them 7-star hotels – named Ashoka,  Akbar, Imperial, Taj, Oberoi— and in their shadows are the jugghijhopris of the poor : Almost 60 percent of Delhi’s population comprises the poor and the underprivileged. It’s been like this from the mists of time.

The population of greater Delhi today is around 20 million.

It’s really an ancient, modern, postmodern mega city or several cities– from the epical Indraprastha to imperial Britain’s New Delhi built by 42-years old Edwin Landseer Lutyens around the same time as  Walter Burley Griffin, buried in Lucknow, was imagining Canberra. The Empire lasted a few decades more before it collapsed into a heap of stones. But the bust always survives the city, especially a poet’s.

The Mahabharta is the world’s longest poem and the greatest epic, compiled by various poets, around 1000 BC. It’s a Doomsday epic. There’s nothing like its apocalyptic vision in world literature. In 18 days, 18 million people are decimated in a fratricidal war between cousins mirroring the wars that we remember in Europe, India, the Middle East and elsewhere. As the epic’s epigraph says:

What is found in this epic

Maybe elsewhere;

What is not in this epic

Is nowhere else.

That it should mirror our modern world with such imaginative power and brutal brilliance is the real wonder: It’s more incredible and permanent than any monument.

In the epic, there’s a central episode: Arjuna, the warrior hero of the poem, is lured out of the raging battlefield. His son Abhimanyu has to fight the day among treacherous and very sinister opponents. They create a maze—a chakravehyu. Arjuna’s young son is trapped. He fights valiantly but dies defending good against evil.

Delhi is a political chakravehyu where good and evil are not so clearly defined. Arvind Kejriwal’s victory is both historic and heroic. He has won 67 seats out of the possible 70 in the State Assembly in the capital of India.BJP managed only three: Modi’s magic didn’t work, nor did the strategies of the Hindutva ideologue, Amit Shah. The tsunami has been stopped by a mass of ordinary people in an extraordinary election. The waves of common men and women changed the tide—it’s truly a watershed victory.

The Aam Admi Party, the Common Person’s Party, won a massive mandate against corruption and corrupting communal politics. In a state infamous for corruption and scams of billions of dollars, land allocations, creating colonies for the nouveau riche, and marginalizing   the most vulnerable, this is truly an epical victory of the ordinary people. In fact, how ordinary is anyone endowed with a human spirit and its measureless possibilities?

Kejriwal entered this murky maze like Abhimanyu—he was a tax collector; he’s 46 years old. He didn’t appeal to any communal forces, unlike BJP and even Nehru’s Congress, which didn’t win a single seat. Delhi is also known for being the graveyard of dynasties. Kejriwal’s spectacular victory in Delhi augurs well for a secular India.  Communal forces are whipped up in India for political gains and the intimidations of minorities at the drop of a Gandhi cap.No political party is immune from it and several use it with impunity. Victory is everything and often at the cost of many lives of the poorest of the poor.

Delhi has shown another vital way in a vibrant democracy: That a people can rise above their communal fantasies and build a nation’s capital of which the poor and the rich can both be proud, as Kejriwal put it in the few humble words after the stunning results were announced.

He also admitted that it is ‘scary’ to win such an overwhelming popular vote. How does one justify the confidence of the people—the Common Man-Woman? A year ago in 2013, he’d won the largest number of seats but didn’t have an absolute majority. After 49 days, he resigned when his anti-corruption bill was defeated by a combination of BJP and Congress parties, both known for their big business corruption and political communalism.

It was a fatal political mistake, one felt. Now in hindsight one can see how principled a decision that was.In this election he was attacked by BJP on several fronts: All he said in reply was: I made a mistake but I’m not guilty of an act of corruption or killing.

That simple admission caught the imagination of the Delhi voters. And Aam Admi Party made history. One doesn’t need a strong leader; one’s great fortune is to have an honest one. That can be a people’s most vital breath. He paid a special tribute to his wife’s faith in his philosophy—normally Indian politicians attribute their success to some fake guru or an absconding astrologer.

Of course there are many other factors: women’s safety, the cost of living expenses, jobs for the young, the support of many intellectuals and youth who abhor communal politics for they realize the causes of India’s backwardness are corruption, communalism, religious frauds, the tragic gap between the haves and have-nots, among others.

In Delhi churches were attacked; there was a’gharvapsi’ movement of converted people to be reconverted to the Hindutva version of  Hinduism, espoused by  nasty segments of BJP. Much of the world, as we know, is converted. Why this convoluted thinking in a land where many religions flourished like trees in a fruitful orchard.

One has only to look at the ‘credit’ in a good Bollywood movie to appreciate the gift of this diversity of creative dynamism and pluralistic vision. That is Indian democracy’s deepest resource. And that is why Indian secular democracy must survive, so that we all value its myriad possibilities of many- sided truth and ideas of free expression.

That it has happened in Delhi elections should give us hope and time both. Delhi has been known for some of the worst communal killings: victims have been Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, and always the poor. As has been said : When elephants fight the grass gets hurt; the grass also gets hurt when elephants make love! Indian elephants are rather huge.

Delhi is a democratic city: It’ll disturb you with its pockets of distress and decay but it’ll not depress you. It keeps recreating itself as the world under water: You may see the waves and may miss the ocean. India is an oceanic country, imaginatively conceived.

It is, in fact, a desert city full of green trees and a rich variety of flower gardens and parks with peacocks. Its most fascinating aspects are the people of Delhi—you’ll not see such a variety in New York, London or Paris.It’s older than all even in its imperial dreams, dirt and dereliction.

It s a city of assassinations and resurrections :The Father of the nation, Mahatma  Gandhi, was murdered here in his prayer garden; India’s first woman prime minister, Indira Gandhi, was killed by her own body guards, a few kilometers away.The Delhi bank of the River Yamuna is known for the ‘ghats’ of the dead as memorials.

Walk from one end of Delhi to another and you’ll encounter many centuries and ages. It’s not a city for old men and women .One can barely see the winter sun— the flaming arc lost in the fog and fume and flying kites. It’s the world’s most polluted city.It was rumored that Barrack Obama, on a recent visit, carried his own breathing equipment of clean air; the CIA or FBI  bomb-sniffing dogs were given one room each in Taj Mansingh hotel! A bit exaggerated? But in Delhi anything is possible, I was told in my youth by an Air-India official who made me miss my flight.

And yet, to me, it’s the city of my heart and sweetheart. And therein lies a story, I’m writing.

Delhi is a radical and radiant city: full of surprises unimagined even in the extraordinary Indian epics. It’s a city of the Gita, Ghalib and  the Apocalypse of a nuclear bomb:

If the radiance of a thousand suns

Were to burst at once into the sky

That would be like the splendor of the Mighty ONE…

I am become death,

The shatterer of worlds.

These lines were remembered by Robert Oppenheimer as he saw the first nuclear fission in 1945. The lines are from the Gita, a kind of prologue  or the Dialogue of Death to the greatest Doomsday epic in world literature.

I’m glad I spent seven years in Delhi: four years as a student at Delhi university; almost three years as a teacher-cum- trainee-journalist. I’d gone there in my teens. In the last fifty odd years since I must have gone there at least fifty times. Like Nadi, Delhi is integral to my life. Suva and Canberra are still a bit distant—it takes a long time and inspiring political acts to love a city.

I was lucky to have met Pundit Nehru in Delhi. Shri Arvind Kejriwal’s personality and his party’s amazing victory, I feel, justifies my poem ‘Hope in Delhi’ written in 1977. It’s in my book The Loneliness of Islands.

Delhi,  once again ,like democracy, has won a famous victory.



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