Mind The Gap

I was in Delhi a few days before the 2013 Delhi state elections; everywhere I went everyone discussed politics. Delhi is a bit like that especially amongst the intelligentsia. Every one is a political analyst and has an opinion on how the country should be run, who should govern and what is detrimental to the nations’s growth.

During those days everyone mouthed one name – Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Aadmi Party. Together they were the great white hope for Delhi’s populace for Kejriwal with his election symbol the broomstick was going to change everything – from sweeping the corruption out of a governance that was hallmarked by corruption at all levels to reducing electricity tariffs by half to providing water as a right etc.
However the Bharatiya Janata Party emerged as the single-largest party, winning 32 out of the 70 seats. Since they fell short of an outright majority and were unable to form the government, this led to the then Lieutenant Governor of Delhi inviting the Aam Aadmi Party, the second largest party after the BJP, to form the government. AAP formed the state government joining hands with the Congress party. However after 49 days of rule, Arvind Kejriwal resigned from his post citing the reason as his government's inability to table a Bill in the Delhi Assembly for discussion due to stiff opposition from other political parties in the house.

Delhi remained thereafter under President's Rule for about a year. The Delhi Legislative Assembly election, 2015 will be held on 7 February 2015 to elect 70 members of the Delhi Legislative Assembly. The players are the same, the manifestoes haven’t changed and the political tango continues. This time though the expectations amongst the intelligentsia and the middle class veers towards an apathy. For the truth is no one thinks a party is going to be as significant as the candidate.

What of the poor I wonder though? Who would they vote for? Do they even think anyone new at the helm of the government is going to make any difference to their lives?

I travel to Delhi at least twice a year. My address there is in a nice part of city. Not the tree lined central Delhi with beautiful homes, embassies, luxury hotels and the historic ruins. Among the broad roads one is insulated from real Delhi and real India. My friend’s home is a coveted address in a middle class location nevertheless as I approach it I am offered a vision of the city that is a microcosm for the nation as a whole.

Shanties line either side of the road spilling onto a non-existent pavement where vendors and carts sell their wares. Vegetables on one cart. Street food on another. Ceramic jars and plastic trays in another and like an alien presence buckets of roses and lilies in a makeshift florist. The price of a bunch of flowers would pay for a filling meal for four in one of the shanties. Suddenly the road runs alongside homes with high walls and security guards. I see a cycle rickshaw driven by an elderly man jostle for space alongside a BMW sports coupe driven by a young man talking on his Ifon6. This is the sort of clichéd image of India the media from developed nations have mined for several decades. And sadly the truth about clichés are they are clichés because they are true.

Many of us protest about this stereotyping of India and its poverty. We are the nation that has launched the Mars – Orbiter mission and our thriving IT, telecommunications, and financial sectors drives the country’s average 8 percent annual growth. But we are also the nation where much of its populace still live without basic sanitation, education, and stable employment. As for the contrast between India’s urban elite and its rural poor, it is even more horrifying. Many villages often do not have sanitary sewer services, or the infrastructure necessary to connect it to India’s economic centers. In fact, the relative isolation of the villages has led to the caste-system thriving, despite the constitutional ban on caste-based discrimination and regulation.

Villages also have to deal with water scarcity, a problem throughout India, home to 17 percent of the world’s population but only 4 percent of the world’s fresh water supply. The severe depression of India’s rural areas has led to an increase in agrarian suicides as well as an exodus of men and women seeking better opportunities in cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Bangalore. However nothing much changes in their life here either. Meanwhile the middle class and rich continue their comfortable lives of conspicuous consumption oblivious to the fact that around them thousands live in abject squalor hard lives of quiet desperation from which there is no real escape.

Across the road I see a middle aged woman, a daily wage earner or perhaps a domestic help laden with two heavy bags of groceries try and negotiate a path through the bustling pedestrian traffic, all trying to reach the bus stand before the bus pulls away. An elderly couple stand with their palms outstretched. No one looks at them. They are too involved in their own thoughts or they look away.

I look away too for that is what most of us in India do. We look away when we see small children beg at traffic light; we look away when we see the elderly shivering on a cold night huddled under a blanket on a pavement. We look away when we see the poor and hungry. We look away when we see the ill and destitute. We look away when we see children defecate on their doorstep because they don’t have a toilet. We look away knowing that the truth about life in India is the divide between the rich and poor seem to be increasing day by day and not one of us have a clue on how to bridge the gap.

- Published in La Repubblica Italy February 2015








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