When I am trying to explain my country to the bemused newbie, I say that she should think of it as if it were Europe, should Europe ever become a single nation. We have as many cultures, as many languages and as many diverse cultural influences as Europe and this makes it a challenging place to live. No doubt this also makes it a challenging place to report on and a challenging place to govern.
So let me say upfront, I think Delhi is a bad idea. Not as a city, not as a place to live. On those grounds, it should be judged by those who live there. I think it is a bad idea to sit in Delhi and make decisions about Mumbai. Or Goa. Or Telangana. Or Manipur.
Of course, we are a unitary State with federal features and when we were in school, we learnt about the state list and the Union list and the concurrent list. Lest you have forgotten, the central government can make laws on the Union list; the state can make laws on the state list so long as they do not conflict with the Constitution and do not conflict with Union laws and the concurrent list has subjects where both can muck about.
This should work fine you would think.
Only it hasn’t.
Every time something happens, someone says, “There ought to be a law.” Then someone who is better informed says, “There is already a law.”
Then the writer of the second edit says, “India has some fine laws but the problem is that they are never enforced.” Since we are not terribly inclined to muck about too much once the crisis has passed, since we enjoy inertia, nothing much happens after that. This is because of Delhi.
Delhi is too far away to be accountable. Delhi is too far away to be able to tell what is happening. Delhi, most of the time, does not care too much anyway. If things aren’t broken, they must be working.
Which is why it is time to ask for a little more decentralising of power. Can you imagine how nice it would be if you went shopping in the market and saw your MLA buying his fish? (This is always assuming that he would buy it, as opposed to accepting it graciously on behalf of his family, ‘bachchon ke liye paamplet’.) This can only happen if your MLA knows that this would be good for his image, to be seen as being in touch with the people.
Would it not be a fine thing to go to the temple and find that your MP was also present for the evening aarti? Then you could look straight through him if you did not like the way he had voted on the issue of the park that was to be turned into a parking lot. He might actually vote in a way that would benefit the community.
But what do we get? We get a prime minister who is incommunicado for the best part of the year. We have a home minister who isn’t asking the right questions but believes that it is best to make testosterone-rich remarks each time something like this happens. We have an Opposition party that has forgotten that our jurisprudence, created in a better and more idealistic time, maintains that you are ‘innocent until proven guilty’ even with old offenders and which wants to take dead people to the votebank. We have the media that can’t get out of Delhi studios even when discussing an issue that happened somewhere else in the country.
So when someone from Delhi asks me what does it feel like to live in a city that is bombed on a fairly regular basis, I have to confess that I don’t know. I don’t know whether there is a single answer to that question. I am middle class. I live in a cosmopolitan neighbourhood that is the real estate agent’s way of saying that he can’t guarantee that your neighbours won’t be Muslim or Christian or Parsi. I live in a building and I don’t even travel to work and back. I was safe on Wednesday evening as were all the people I love. This informs my answer and it would inform the answer of everyone who lives in the urban of sprawl of Mumbai. Different person, different answer.
What are the right questions then?
The right questions are simple. How do we stop this happening? It isn’t CCTV cameras and the right to break into people’s lives. It isn’t throwing lots of money at defence or internal security as much as the stooges of big business and R&AW would like us to believe. That’s like saying, let’s treat the symptoms and leave the disease to take care of itself.
So if we want to create a world without bombs, how about saying: how much have we invested in social justice? Have we created an inclusive nation? Does India shine as brilliantly for the tribal child and the rural poor as it does for my nine-year-old neighbour who goes to school in an air-conditioned SUV, hard at work on his laptop? Those are the right questions. But as long as the people framing the questions and the answers remain in Delhi, we are not going to get anywhere closer to workable solutions.
Jerry Pinto is a Mumbai-based writer. The views expressed by the author are personal.