Delhi, not Dilli, and thank God for that

Updated on Feb 15, 2008 03:57 AM IST
The Capital is probably India’s only metropolis that qualifies as a true cosmopolis, reports Shivani Singh.
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Hindustan Times | By, New Delhi

Watching the Raj Thackeray drama played up so obligingly by the TV channels, one would get stumped by the sheer absurdity of having to consider an issue so irrelevant in our time. Parochial politics does promise short-term dividends and if we look at its potential playgrounds among our big metros, even great cities like Kolkata and Chennai offer room to kick off similar us-versus-them face-offs.

But not Delhi. The Capital is probably India’s only metropolis that qualifies as a true cosmopolis. Yes, we don’t have enough civic sense. We are almost rustic in our boisterousness and traffic sense. But as far as demography goes, Delhi is undoubtedly the soundest mix of so many different Indias.

So much so, we need to look hard to identify a good number of ‘original’ Dilliwallas. Recently, for the I Love Delhi series, we had to pin down a few families that trace back their roots to a few generations in the city. It was not easy.

Take my metro reporting team as a sample. Of the lot, only Atul and I can trace our roots back to more than three centuries in Delhi. Anuradha is a fourth generation Delhiite and Sidhartha’s family goes back to three generations. But his family had come from Aligarh and hers from West Bengal. Moushumi, Avishek and Karan are Bengalis from the North-East, Mangalore and Bathinda, respectively. Vidya is a Tamil from Bhopal. Nivedita is a Marathi from Nagpur. Vijaita and Jaya are from Kolkata – one is a Purvanchali and the other is a Marwari. Tushar and Ravi have their family roots in Lucknow. The two seniormost reporters, Amitabh and Aruna, are from Bihar and Kerala, respectively.

It is not out of character then, that Delhi’s Lieutenant-Governor grew up in Bihar and served as an IAS officer of Punjab cadre, chief minister Sheila Dikshit was born in Kapurthala in Punjab. What could serve as a healthier example of a cosmopolitan mix? I say healthy because this matrix forecloses opportunities for any cheeky politician to play mischief with the regional identity card.

When outfits like Sena, or its underling Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, and a now-out-of-business Aamra Bangalitry to create rifts between the “sons of the soil” and the “outsiders” in Mumbai or Kolkata, they may or may not succeed, but they do believe they stand a chance. That is because the demography in these metros offers them at least an illusion of such a divide. In Kolkata and Chennai, Bengalis and Tamilians are still the majority. In Mumbai, the Marathis can match up in numbers with the combined population of the non-Marathis.

In Delhi, the North Indians are obviously the majority. But they are not, thankfully, a homogenous majority that can be herded around by any regional identity sweep. Here we have predominant segments of Punjabis from erstwhile West Pakistan, migrants from UP and Bihar, and Jats from Haryana. Then we have a big non-North Indian population of Bengalis – many from erstwhile East Pakistan -- and people from the southern states. No political party can decisively tilt electoral equations by selective wooing of any particular segment of the population.

If you still don’t get the point, consider this: Great cities called Bombay, Calcutta and Madras are history today. They are Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai now. Delhi, on the other hand, is alive and kicking.


    Shivani Singh leads the Delhi Metro team for Hindustan Times. A journalist for two decades, she writes about cities and urban concerns. She has reported extensively on issues of governance, administrative and social reforms, and education.

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