Delhi, hang your head in shame

The capital of the world’s largest democracy has shown that its residents may be literate but are certainly not educated

It was rural India that put the brakes on the BJP (photo courtesy: @ECISVEEP/X)
It was rural India that put the brakes on the BJP (photo courtesy: @ECISVEEP/X)

Avay Shukla

My first posting as deputy commissioner was in 1980, to a district called Una. Una sits uncomfortably on the border with Punjab, and was apportioned to Himachal under the Punjab Reorganisation Act in the 1970s. Ever since, Himachal has been trying to return Una to Punjab, without any success! The reason? The good citizens of Una just have to be the most argumentative, cantankerous and litigious bunch in the Himalayas.

In fact, I was told of a local legend about Guru Nanak Dev visiting Una during the course of his travels. He spent a night there trying to preach to the people, apparently in vain because they wouldn’t listen to him, kept arguing on every issue and generally gave his teachings short shrift. Next morning, before leaving, he conferred his benediction on them, praying to God that they should not be disturbed in their present place of habitation, that they should prosper and be spared the ceaseless wandering that was the lot of people in those times.

The Guru then stopped at Anandpur Sahib where he was treated with utmost respect, his every word venerated and his teachings enshrined in the hearts of the good people of Ropar. The next morning, he blessed the villagers, saying they would travel all over India and not remain bound to one place.

His followers, in some surprise, asked him about the difference in blessings for Una and Anandpur Sahib. Why did the latter have to endure the hardship of dispersing all over the country while the former would have the comfort of being settled in one place?

It is said the Guru replied (no doubt with a twinkle in his eye) that the people of Anandpur Sahib were true disciples who would spread his message of love and fraternity throughout the country. The people of Una, on the other hand, represented every value he abhorred, and thus it was fitting that they should remain confined to one place and not get any chance to spread their negativity.

I am reminded of this enlightening anecdote post the election results in Delhi, where the BJP won seven out of seven Parliamentary seats. Delhi is no different from Una, and its citizens deserve a similar ‘blessing’.

While the ordinary citizens of India were fighting to regain their democratic heritage from a despotic regime, the pampered elite of Golf Links and Punjabi Bagh, the RWAs of Dwarka and the coddled bureaucrats of Motinagar preferred to go on living in their privileged bubble of windfall real-estate earnings and vacations in Bali.

Once again, they have displayed their total disconnect from the real Bharat, even as they plunder its resources to extract a disproportionate share of the nation’s energy and water, not caring two hoots about the destruction of our green cover, rivers and environment.

The callousness they displayed when booting out millions of migrants during the Covid lockdown has, once again, been reflected in their total apathy and lack of empathy for the endless suffering inflicted by this BJP regime on the average citizen for the last 10 years. By giving all seven seats to the same party, they have endorsed another five years of authoritarianism. It is rural India, not the self-serving urbanites of Delhi (and Bangalore), which has put the brakes on the rampage.

According to available figures for Delhi, about 50 lakh voters preferred the BJP, as against 38 lakh for the INDIA bloc. In 2012, these same people had come out in their tens of thousands and flooded the India Gate and Boat Club grounds to protest corruption and the lack of safety for women under the UPA government. Now they are unconcerned about all these, and even more disturbing, issues.

It would appear that they have been lobotomised in this last decade by the toxic and heady mix of hate, Islamophobia and crass materialism to the point where they attach no value at all to what was once the essence of our country — tolerance, pluralism, basic rights for citizens, concern for Gandhi’s daridra narayan and the freedom to debate, that jewel of a democracy with all its flaws.

And they most certainly cannot plead ignorance. The worst atrocities and Constitutional violations have occurred right under their noses, in Delhi itself: the engineered riots of 2022, the brutal beating up of JNU and Jamia students by the police, the hateful chants of “goli maaro saalon ko (shoot the bastards)” directed at the peaceful protesters of Shaheen Bagh, the barbaric treatment of protesting female wrestlers, the vandalisation of Delhi’s history, architectural heritage and natural environment through grotesquely bizarre projects like the Central Vista and Bharat Mandapam extravaganzas, the usurpation of common public places under the guise of security…

Delhi’s citizens had rejected the BJP not once but twice, by voting in the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) in the last two Assembly elections by a massive 90 per cent mandate. So where is the outrage that the same BJP, under a puppet, unelected regent, has not allowed the elected state government to function for the last 10 years?

Are they not angry that their mandate is being usurped and systematically subverted by an arrogant Ozymandias in Lok Kalyan Marg? That their elected chief minister and other ministers have been arrested and detained without any apparent evidence or trial for months? That Delhi, the capital of the largest democracy in the world, has been reduced to the status of a panchayat in which a chief minister has fewer powers than a sarpanch?

Even if Delhi-ites are too self-centred to bother about national issues, one would expect they would at least be worried about the deplorable goings-on in their own city.

Can they not see that every welfare or development programme of the AAP government — relating to education, health, transport, piped water for slum colonies, doorstep ration delivery, subsistence electricity supply — has been sabotaged by the same unelected and unaccountable regent, simply to wreak political vengeance for his party’s political losses? What kind of stupidity permits Dilliwalas to approve of this venal politics? Even a dog does not defecate in his own backyard.

While distant one-horse towns like Ayodhya, Sabarkantha and Banswara have shown through their votes how precious the Constitution of India is to them, the vast majority of Delhi’s residents have demonstrated that they may be literate but they are certainly not educated.

Through their indifference to the plight of India’s minorities and the hundreds of millions rotting at the bottom of the media-built shining pyramid, they have revealed all that is wrong with India’s elite. They have also demonstrated the validity of activist Harsh Mander’s words in his 2015 book Looking Away: "A just and caring state can only be located ultimately in a just and caring society … India will not change until we—the middle classes—also change." 

Delhi should hang its head in shame for having let down a great nation, its freedom fighters and visionary statesmen who created this country out of 500 territorial fragments, wrested from the debilitating grip of colonialism. To its eternal shame, Delhi has set the clock back by many years.

Views expressed are personal

Avay Shukla is a retired IAS officer and author of Disappearing Democracy: Dismantling of a Nation and other works. He blogs at 

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Published: 15 Jun 2024, 1:33 PM