Closed world of Delhi elite


Tavleen Singh has been writing hard-hitting articles about the elites of Lutyens’s Delhi – their tinted glass worldview, their snobberies and their parasitic life. She should know all about them, for she has been a part of that set all her life. For the elite, she is probably an infuriating turncoat, and they simply can’t understand her reasons for rocking the boat. How can they, when they have never ventured outside their cocoon? In order to know about the vast world outside, one needs to seriously engage with different kinds of people. Sleeping in a Dalit’s house, or travelling by a sanitised local train for one day does not bring new insights. Those are mere tokenisms, which ‘missy-babas’ mistake for experiencing the real world.

I know a little about Lutyens’s world and how it can stunt people’s minds. Growing up, my whole world was centered there. As a civil servant’s child, my friends and I lived in sheltered enclaves, went to the same kind of schools, and often married people from similar backgrounds. The problems that affected the general population were alien to us. Housing, electricity, gas connections and medical care were things that didn’t concern us. Our world moved on its unique axis. We never had to deal with a policeman at a thana, for instance. We just picked up the phone and called an ‘uncle’, and the problem was sorted out. If we wanted a pass for an event, we called another ‘uncle’, and it was arranged. When others talked about their issues, we understood them at an intellectual level, but at the end of the day it was someone else’s problem.

Mercifully, civil servants were not permanent residents of Lutyens’s Delhi. They got transferred out periodically, sometimes to remote places, and eventually retired. Their children were, therefore, forced to move out of their comfort zone and deal with the other realities. However, there is another species – a core group that has persisted in the hallowed zone for generations. Their realities for decades have begun and ended at Lutyens’s Delhi (and perhaps a few ‘suburbs’ like Maharani Bagh, Malcha Marg and Vasant Vihar).

The most obvious members of this core elite are the political dynasties – some have entire Lutyens’s zones dedicated to them as museums and memorials. However, it includes a whole ecosystem of businessmen, fixers, lawyers, journalists, posh NGO-types and even academics. You will be surprised to know how these groups have been interlinked through generations.

Note that elites are not a uniquely Lutyens’s phenomenon. Every society has an elite but Lutyens’s Delhi has been very successful in perpetuating a club where heredity always trumps merit. India has other elites too – Bollywood, business families and so on. However, the fundamental difference is that the other groups are not directly funded by taxpayer’s money (at least in theory).

The Delhi elite operate in a closed, incestuous circuit where there is little feedback from the outside world. In other societies, the media serves as a feedback mechanism. In India, the English language media treats this group with kid gloves and deference, compounding the mental isolation. This is not surprising as many of the leading journalists are children of the old elite (which is a story in its own right). Even the international media provides no feedback since it too derives its stories from the same class.

As a result of this inbreeding, pampering and isolation, India now has a group that would put Mary Antoinette to shame. The consistently illogical or insensitive responses from the Government are a consequence of the mental disassociation from ground realities. Think back to the reactions during last year’s Delhi rape case for instance. If the elite had understood people’s fears and anguish, they would have stood with their compatriots in solidarity, instead of responding with tear-gas, water-cannons and lathi charge. But they could not understand because their own lives were protected behind taxpayer-funded ‘Z’ category security. To them, the intrusion of thousands of ‘outsiders’ on their home turf was far more threatening.

Remember the outrage when MP Raj Babbar glibly claimed that people could eat a hearty meal for 12 rupees, or when Farooq Abdullah declared that one could buy a meal for one rupee? I don’t think it was just a case of silly politicians deliberately out to insult the masses. In their world, they never had to worry about hunger or stress about 80 rupees a kilo onions. It was more a case of ‘let them eat cake’.

Recall the Uttarakhand episode, when Rahul Gandhi flew in by helicopter, surrounded by a security cordon, and Army officers vacated their quarters to accommodate him. He was criticised for going there despite the Chief Minister’s ban on all VIPs .The appropriateness of his visit is not the relevant debate here. The thing to note was Congress spokesperson Renuka Chaudhary’s defence, where she claimed with a straight face, on national television, that Rahul Gandhi was there as an ordinary citizen. The sheer absurdity of the comment was plain for all to see, but it was clearly not apparent to her. This is hardly surprising, for in the ‘missy-baba’ world of privilege, dichotomy is just a normal way of life.

As Tavleen Singh said, real change will only happen when the elite are forced out of their cocoon and made to face grim realities. Till then, we will have to deal with various ‘rights to food, education and healthcare’ type of solutions. I second her opinion, a million times over.

As a former fringe member of Lutyens’s Delhi, I admit with great humility that I’ve had access to the best that my country has had to offer. But a vast majority of my people struggle for basic things. It is a galling realisation, which will hopefully dawn even on the Delhi elite soon. The writing on the wall is clear for all those who are willing to see. Most people no longer respect the posh, English-speaking types who look down at the rest, while they air kiss their way through la-la land. It is time for a reality check. This can happen willingly through introspection. Or it will simply be forced by a restive, resentful population, as Mary Antoinette found out.

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