Fifth Column: Dreaming of good days

Fifth Column: Dreaming of good days

As if all that the new government has done in the past few months is settle easily into the ugly mould.

Even if the BJP wins Delhi next week it needs to be worried that a party that got only four seats in the Lok Sabha election put up such a fight. If BJP leaders examine why, they may discover that for far too many Indians the Modi magic is slowly evaporating into the ether. The main reason is that in too many important ways, it is beginning to look as if all that the new government has done in the past few months is settle easily into the ugly mould created over a decade that will be counted as one of India’s most wasted decades.

The ugliness is most visible to our poorest, most helpless citizens and it is from them that the Aam Aadmi Party is getting most of its support. This is because not only for them is there not the smallest sign yet of achche din, there is distressing evidence that nothing has changed at all. Listen to what happened last week to a group of street people I work with in Mumbai. They are routinely moved off the footpath near the Vidhan Sabha when there is a session of the Assembly, so they built themselves fragile huts on a PWD wasteland at the edge of the sea.

Then inevitably came the ‘demolition’. When they tried to resist, more than 20 people got arrested including young mothers. Among them was a young woman I have known since she was a child. When I tried to get her released, I was told I would need to go to court the next day. But before I could do this, her husband tried to take her very small baby to her in custody and was beaten within an inch of his life by policemen. He was a sick man already and now has a serious head injury.

The next day he came with me to a courtroom that was beyond Kafkaesque in its appearance. Plaster peeled off walls, stacks of dusty files filled every available space and wooden benches were covered in a thick layer of bird droppings. The majesty of justice was hard to imagine. When we found a lawyer, it turned out that bail would be at least Rs 1,000 for each person. If I had not been able to help, there would be no bail. Later, I met the demolition officials and asked where these people were expected to move. They had no answer. Nor did the police. Not even when the victims reminded them that they did not expect such things to happen under the ‘Modi sarkar’.

When ordinary Indians voted for ‘parivartan’, it was in these things that they expected to see real change. Why is a newly-elected BJP government in Maharashtra unable to deal with Mumbai’s biggest problems more humanely? It is a question that the Prime Minister needs to address or he will end up being blamed for the things that remain unchanged. It was in his name that the BJP won and one of the promises he made was that every Indian would have a roof over his head.

So far the Prime Minister continues to look good, but if he pays attention to what his ministers are doing he will find that too many have been infected by the Lutyens disease. If this column has campaigned tirelessly for officials, ministers and MPs to be evicted from their vast colonial bungalows on India’s most expensive real estate, it is because I have seen the humblest, nicest people change. No sooner do they ensconce themselves in Lutyens Delhi at vast expense to taxpayers than they start behaving as our colonial masters may once have done. A strut creeps into their gait and arrogance and complacency become their dominant characteristics. They are encouraged by fawning Lutyens courtiers. The same people who once infested the court of Sonia and Rahul Gandhi have moved quietly to the other side.


Speaking of the dynasty, let me say that I was not the only one shocked to see Sonia Gandhi seated at the high table in the banquet for Barack and Michelle Obama. She returned this gracious gesture by getting her spokesmen to start spreading the word that the reason why the US President delivered his homily on religious harmony was because she had asked him to. Next time the Prime Minister wants to be gracious, he should keep in mind that had there been a reversal of roles he would never have been at the high table. He should remember that this is the same woman who once called him ‘a merchant of death’. And not to be outshone by Mummy, Rahul Gandhi targeted the Prime Minister through the campaign for Delhi mocking him for his ‘Rs 10 lakh suit.’ Achche din are beginning to seem dangerously far away.

Follow Tavleen Singh on Twitter @ tavleen_singh