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Asian Tribune is published by E-LANKA MEDIA(PVT)Ltd. Vol. 20 No. 101

Sheila’s Delhi Indiscretion

By Atul- Rama Rao - Syndicate Features

Delhi’s chief minister Sheila Dixit is not generally known to shoot her mouth off. But discretion deserted her when she suggested that uncontrolled flow of people from neighbouring states like UP and Bihar had added to the woes of the capital of India, an ever expanding urban chaos of more than 15 million people known as much for the power of its spoilt army of ‘babus’ as the crassness of its average citizens. Her opponents were quick to pounce on her even as she made a hasty retreat with profound apologies.

Though the political storm has abated, the Congress party has reason to worry. Delhi assembly elections are not far away. Several other important polls are also due over the next years. More over, Mayawati’s BSP has made in roads into Delhi cashing in on the presence of migrants particularly from Eastern UP.

Let it be said however, that Sheila Dixit is certainly not the first politician to carp against unrestricted flow of people to a metropolitan area from other states. Perhaps the pioneer of this criticism is the Shiv Sena supremo, Bal Thackeray, who first decried way back in the 1960s the presence of south Indians (mostly Tamils) in the financial capital of Bombay, renamed Mumbai on Shiv Sena’s and its clone BJP’s insistence.

The Sena leader’s ire towards south Indians has ebbed a little over the years but some time ago he turned his attention towards the ‘Bhaiyyas’ of UP and Bihar who, he said, should go back to their land if they were not happy in Mumbai. Luckily for south Indians and ‘Bhaiyyas’, there is very little that the Shiv Sena can do to drive them out of Mumbai beyond harassing them now and then. More uncomfortably for the xenophobes in the Shiv Sena the overwhelming number of Mumbai ‘natives’, the Maharashtrians, do not support any campaign against immigrants in the city.

In Delhi, the immigrants have much less to fear. The number of ‘natives’ living in the city is infinitesimal in comparison with the ocean of ‘outsiders’. The ‘walled city’ is the home of Delhi’s ‘aborigines’ but after the August 1947 Partition even this enclave was flooded by people from Punjab. The original ‘Delhiite’ is a rare sight on city streets.

Being the (winter) capital of India, people from outside did arrive in Delhi much before 1947. British rulers of the day had segregated almost all of them away from the ‘natives’ in sprawling government ‘colonies’ and bungalows on leafy streets. Delhi had retained its ‘original’ character all through the pre-Partition years with its distinct language, laidback life and unique cuisine. Post-August 1947 Delhi began to experience a quick transformation, demographically, linguistically and culturally as it headed for the cosmopolitan status.

Those were the days when Delhi was not the only north Indian city undergoing a rapid transformation with the influx of people from across the border. Yet, some of the changes in Delhi were striking. The street language, an Urdu-laced Hindustani drawl, had given way to a Hindustani that sounded Punjabi in intonation. The city’s new work ethic had no room for the leisurely ways and the ‘natives’ were exposed to hitherto unfamiliar sartorial fashions and gastronomic preferences. The Delhi of Ghalib had become a throbbing and rather loud Punjabi city.

All went well for the next 30 or 40 years till the robust Punjabi and earthy Haryanavi chatter that used to dominate the street language gave way to the soft strains of Hindi spoken by migrants from Bihar and eastern UP. Swamped by Biharis and UPwallahas, Delhi no longer sounded like a Punjabi city. Now Sheila Dixit seems to suggest that there is no way Delhi will ever again sound like a Punjabi city.

If there was just a hint of lament in her words it is understandable. After all, she herself belongs to a Punjabi family. But then she had married a UP ‘Bhaiyya’. So what if the man was an IAS officer and the son of a long time AICC treasurer, Uma Shankar Dixit. Many would be curious to know if she feels more like an UPwallah or a Punjabi. Oh, but she is the chief minister of the union territory of Delhi and by virtue of that she has to claim firm roots in the soil of this ancient city.

Sheila Dixit need not be grilled on her loyalty towards the city in the manner, say, a British politician would test a British Asian’s patriotism at a cricket ground. Big cities enjoy their cosmopolitanism even if some of their denizens discard their patriotic traits at sports grounds. These poor creatures think their eccentricity and boisterousness spices up the city’s life and culture.

All our mega cities - Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore -- thrive because of their cosmopolitan mix. Even Bal Thackeray has admitted it. A cosmopolitan city has to be multi-cultural and in India these cities can see the dominance of at least two or three different languages.

The large-scale migration of people from other regions into a large city compels a degree of tolerance and appreciation of other cultures among the citizens.
There are other advantages too. Gujaratis have contributed immensely to making Mumbai, the financial hub of India; its Bollywood is dominated by people from the north, especially Punjabis.

Kolkata has probably a larger population of non-Bengalis with the so-called Marwaris dominating its industry and trade. The Telugus, Biharis, and Oriyas have made Kolkata their own from pre-partition days.

Chennai’s film industry owes its rise to people from Andhra Pradesh for whom, Chennai is Chennapatnam, where dreams are made in colour. The Kannadigas are outnumbered in the Karnataka capital, Bangalore, by Tamil and Telugu speaking persons. English is perhaps more widely spoken in this city than in any other Indian city. No other Indian city has more pubs than Bangalore, which has since been renamed as Banagaluru. The large number of IT companies, Indian and foreign, give the city an international flavour.

Does that make Bangalore ours most ‘westernised’ city, as one would expect it because of its many special characteristics? Well, it scores over Mumbai but according to a survey carried out some time ago none of the big cosmopolitan cities in India are as ‘westernised’ as the capitals of some North Eastern states where the way of life does look greatly influenced by the West.

Yes, Aizawl, Kohima, Shillong, Gangtok, and Imphal - none of which is cosmopolitan or a large urban centre -- are more ‘westernised’ than even Banagaluru, Mumbai and Panaji.

Critics of Sheila Dixit need to know that Delhi with all the Punjabis, south Indians, Bengalis, Biharis and UPwallahas and others is not even the reckoning for being called a thoroughbred ‘westernised’ city. Perhaps most ‘Delhiites’, whether natives or immigrants, do not mind living in a cosmopolitan city even if it is badly run as Delhi is.

- Syndicate Features -

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