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Whose city is it anyway?

india Updated: May 11, 2007 23:49 IST
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Your City going to the dogs? No place for you to park the car? The weather’s getting worse? Your children not doing as well in their exams as they used to? Well, all this must be the result of those hordes of migrants pouring into the beloved city. Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit sure seems to think so. The national capital is on the verge of going kaput because of the “thousands of people [coming] from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and other states” creating such a load on the city’s infrastructure. Hang on, but isn’t that what the Thackerays from Mumbai used to say about ‘Madrasis’ (read: Tamils) and ‘Bangladeshis’ (read: Bengalis) destroying amchi Mumbai and Maharashtra? It turns out that Ms Dikshit has, since uttering her Reich-like statement, flipped around to say how she is fully aware of the wonderful contributions that people from outside of Delhi, “especially from UP and Bihar”, have made and continue to make for the development of Delhi. Hurrah, for the Chief Minister must have known all along that to find an ‘original’, dyed-in-the-wool, undiluted Delhiite, one would have to really, really start looking. Show us a Delhiite who has his or her roots in Delhi and we’ll show you a Delhi Chief Minister who is completely in sync with her modern, cosmpolitan citizens.

A city gets its ‘zip’, its modernity and its cosmopolitanism from its immigrants and the new strands of culture, work ethics and lifestyles that they bring with them. That is why cities like Bombay and Calcutta, unlike Mumbai and Kolkata, were once urban centres that drew not only people but also talent, being centres of the zeitgeist. The reputation of being the lighthouse drawing the brightest and the most energetic is now Delhi’s. Unless, of course, people like Ms Dikshit are seeking the easiest excuse for their own shortcomings: it’s the immigrants. On a more prosaic but pragmatic level, immigrants make an economic engine move faster and in different, surprising directions.

Look at the West. As its citizens age, there is immense potential for our people to find gainful employment there, especially in the healthcare sector. If there shouldn’t be any restriction of movement of labour between countries, surely, there’s nothing awry about people from within India moving towards bright spots like Delhi. In fact, the government of Delhi would do well to facilitate the entry and settling down of these migrants.

Some of the most vibrant cities in the world are those made up of rainbow populations. An Awadhi living next door to a Bihari living next door to a Bengali living next door to a Malayali makes for a neighbourhood as vibrant as any in multi-culti London or New York City.

So, without sounding like some cheesy pop singer from the 1980s singing about how we are the world — or at least India — let Delhi keep attracting all those dynamic people from the rest of India. Yes, people from UP and Bihar included.