City of Sperms. The title of this old column for OPEN by Manu Joseph has remained stuck in my head all these years and pops up every time a pilot announces approach to Delhi. Despite (or perhaps due to) being born-in and having spent nearly two decades in the capital territory, I have always hesitated in identifying myself a Dilliwala. Upon my recent return for good (after six years of moving about), I had little choice but to accept the label and face the city: Better put on the seat-belt!
We are hailed across India as the home of rude, privilege-laden brats who drive recklessly, drop swear-words at a moment’s notice, constantly engage in dick-measuring tournaments, and every once a while quiz puzzled policemen and fellow citizens about our scarce degrees of separation from the top brass of the criminal/politician/police nexus. Tu jaanta hai main kaun hoon?!?
Did you know we have the highest rate of kidnapping and abduction in the country? And from molestation to violent crime, we have made our name worldwide, for being not just unsafe for women in general, but also unsafe at night, during the day, and unsafe even for women police officers. Jessica, Aarushi, Nithaari, Nirbhaya … This urban agglomeration has single-handedly contributed every modern household term used to denote the accumulation of rampant corruption, violent crime and filth in society and system across India. No wonder our city-state has left us citizens’ heads hanging in shame.
To be fair, the whole nation has forever been trapped in the unholy alliance of money and power, and earlier this decade, when the Arabs sprang and Wall Street saw occupation, we too took to the streets, protesting corruption. And while the Middle East ended up hosting the world’s fifth wave of democracy, India cooked up a little political experiment of our own in our backyard. Thus was born the ambitious Aam Aadmi Party.
As we celebrate the legacy of this movement today, let us not forget the party’s first battleground, and its portal to mainstream politics in India. This brand new group took a dive and contested candidates for all 70 seats in the Delhi Assembly elections this year. It was thus up against a three-term Chief Minister and an opposition party riding the Modi wave when it was near its peak.
At this point, it is extremely important to look back with candour and acknowledge how outrageous the possibility of an AAP government seemed. Had the AAP won, say, three seats: Would it have surprised any of those news casters and political commentators? A few-months-old political group with each and every candidate a debutante in the game! There wasn’t a single old-school politician in the country who was not ready to burst out with jingles and quips of ‘I told you so’, and then move on to horse trading MLAs as per usual.
But that didn’t happen. AAP won 40% of all seats, 28 of 70, against the ruling party’s 8, and even though it didn’t win a majority, neither did anyone else, and it was essentially the only player with a real choice regarding government formation. And who made this happen? It was us!
Yes, us, Delhiites! We went to the polls in record numbers, we saw the party with a miniscule budget, which had no caste games to play, no religious appeasements to offer, and we voted them in. We attended the NaMo rallies, drank the INC booze, read the AAP manifestos, and chose what really mattered. We all know how historic this election was, but hindsight’s 20/20; it was us who made it historic. In this dance of democracy, for the first time we had a new suitor, one who was not a privilege-laden brat, and as the nation watched, we made the leap and took him by the hand.
And that wasn’t even it. When facing the prospects of forming a government or going for re-election, we were asked to call the shots once again. And called the shots we did. This city and its citizens have done what every soul in post-independent India has dreamt of doing: we confronted the political mafia that has been duping us and kicked them in the cojones.
Of course, this does not change anything about the city just as yet, but there is, now, a very real chance that it might just. From the rickshaw-puller who came from one part of the country to a small businessman who migrated from another (or the same, for that matter), and to the Hisar-born Arvind Kejriwal sworn-in as the Chief Minister today, everyone in this city of migrants stands tall. We’re the first to have finally taken that step towards redefining our political class, towards reclaiming democracy, as many other Indians watch, and for a moment, vicariously live that dream as citizens of this city, listening in on live speeches from their chosen leaders, basking in pride, and optimistically awaiting the passage of the next few months, and the next few years. I see them, I stand with them, and I reclaim a part of my identity. To borrow the proudest (and the most clichéd) boast from half a century ago, Ich Bin Ein Delhiite.
(As posted on NewsYaps)