The BJP appointed Bhojpuri singer-actor and North East Delhi MP, Manoj Tiwari, as head of its Delhi unit on Wednesday. Implicit in the decision is the welcome acknowledgement that the city’s demographic profile has transformed and the party needs to meet the change. The Delhi BJP historically drew its core support from the trader community and Punjabi immigrants: They provided both voters and leaders, while defining political and economic life in the city for many years after the Partition. With the influx of migrants from across India, mostly from UP and Bihar, into Delhi, the political equilibrium has been reset.
Delhi’s transformation into a multi-linguistic, multi-cultural melting pot with a diverse social and economic profile started in the 1980s. But politics in the city began reflecting the change only recently. The 2015 assembly election provided clear evidence of new communal equations in the city. The AAP, a product of the major socio-economic changes Delhi had undergone in the past few decades, swept the 2015 polls in part because it addressed the aspirations of the new city with a new demographic mix: The city of 1.6 crore is now home to a large population — 40 lakh according to some estimates — of Purvanchalis, people who trace their roots to eastern UP and Bihar. The AAP had fielded 11 Purvanchalis as candidates — as against three by the BJP in the 2015 election — and all of them won. The BJP calculates that Tiwari, a Purvanchali, could help the party reach out to the community. The Congress had missed a beat when then chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, had suggested that migrants were a strain on the city’s infrastructure. The AAP, with its theme of bhaichara, focused on communities that had not been tapped into as political blocs and sought to mobilise them.
This politics of accommodation practiced by Delhi’s political mainstream is in sharp contrast to the approach of outfits like the Shiv Sena, which refuse to recognise the contribution of migrants to the urban economy and seek to exclude them. Sena’s politics of exclusion has constricted Mumbai’s growth. The National Capital Region, which includes Delhi, Gurgaon, Faridabad, Ghaziabad and Noida, has displaced the Mumbai Extended Urban Agglomeration (EUA) as the economic capital of India: NCR GDP in terms of purchasing power parity is $370 billion (2015) compared to $368 billion for Mumbai EUA. To put the change in perspective, till about the 1970s, the NCR was an agglomeration of Delhi, a city of traders and the bureaucracy, and suburban small towns, whereas Mumbai was a teeming metropolis that drove the Indian economy. The NCR’s emergence as an economic — and cultural — powerhouse rests on its openness and hospitality to immigrants.