The Year of Hope is Here at Last

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LET THERE BE LIGHT...Aam Aadmi Party activists hold a candle-light protest in Calcutta against growing crimes against women. The movement for change that started in Delhi is making its presence felt in cities across the country. IANS photo.
LET THERE BE LIGHT…Aam Aadmi Party activists hold a candle-light protest in Calcutta against growing crimes against women. The movement for change that started in Delhi is making its presence felt in cities across the country. IANS photo.

Why India’s major cities may hold the key to the dramatic change that 2014 appears all set to usher in

VANIT SETHI

As the New Year begins, it is customary for us journalists to look at the year ahead and see what it holds in store for us. It is called crystal ball gazing – well, you can never predict the future, but you can imagine what it might look like. For example, in January 2013, could anyone predict or even imagine that by the end of the year, the political landscape of India would totally change, and we would have a new, non-politician chief minister of the city-state of Delhi – India’s capital city – who would change the way politics is run in this country? There were no wild guesses too. Arvind Kejriwal wasn’t even given an outside chance to come to power. Yet 2013 ended with a total surprise for India.

So far, all the talk was about the prime ministerial battle between Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi, with Manmohan Singh on the way out. Where was Kejriwal then? Yet today, he and his party – the Aam Aadmi Party – poses a strong challenge to both Congress and the BJP. Nobody saw this coming, even as late as November 2013 – they all called him the decider, not even the challenger, what to talk of winner.

But now, if you look in hindsight, we wonder why nobody saw this happening. The time was ripe for change; the mood of the country was for transformation. But stuck as we are with old paradigms in politics, everyone assumed a situation like the one in Delhi was way too remote. Change sometimes takes everyone by surprise – even those who are in the business of sensing change.

Since the past three years, ever since the Anna Hazare movement took the country by storm, we were constantly being overtaken by events. While 2013 ended on a note of hope, which is being carried forward to 2014, the previous three years ended disastrously – 2012 ended with the horrific gang rape in Delhi, 2011 ended with the petering out of the Anna movement, and 2010 ended with some of the biggest scams being uncovered. Even as north India is freezing, we have managed to avoid a winter of discontent this year. So, 2014 could – in all probability – be the year of hope.

This hope, inevitably, comes from the newbie party that is changing the rules of the game. It may be too early to predict how long this revolutionary energy will last, but there are some indications that this phenomenon may spread – at least in the urban areas, for a start. Now, let’s see what are AAP’s chances in India’s big cities, and how soon they can expand (April is barely three months away).

Delhi: The Game Changer

This is where all the action is. The capital city has been the most enthusiastic participant in this game of change. Even the Anna Hazare movement got its best response here. For several years now, India’s capital has been at the forefront of change. It had not always been like this. Much earlier, it used to be said that ‘what Calcutta does today, the rest of India does tomorrow’. That mantle of leading change has now been taken over by Delhi.

About nearly ten years ago, the capital led the change by coming out in support of Jessica Lal – a case that the courts were forced to overturn, seeing the overwhelming public support for Jessica. Her killer did eventually have to face the long arm of law in the wake of overwhelming public pressure. Then, came the Anna Hazare movement with all its fury and suddenness. And in 2012 December, the capital city became a virtual battlefield following the Nirbhaya gang rape. With cynicism sweeping across the city-state, the hope for change was one thing that kept the citizens going.

So, when Kejriwal entered the electoral arena, the dice had rolled and the dye was cast. Yes, this was the city that was going to set the agenda and change the rules of the game for the rest of the country. The race for change has already begun.

Bangalore — The Front Runner

If at all any city gets to follow Delhi closely, it would neither be Mumbai nor Kolkata, but Bangalore. This silicon plateau has a foundation that is very receptive to change. A cosmopolitan population from across the country that follows national politics more closely than state politics, Bangalore has already picked up the torch and is ready to run along with it.

With its citizens sick and tired of the state’s murky happenings, and corruption levels being the highest in the country – leading to a collapse of the city’s infrastructure – Bangalore was never more ready for change than it is today. Citizens’ initiatives like Bangalore First have already tapped into the people’s desire for change.

AAP has already said it is now getting the maximum enquiries and enrolments from Bangalore, with several youth leaving cushy jobs for the pursuit of a dream that AAP has symbolised – the dream of a corruption-free India. No doubt, Bangalore is the front-runner.

Calcutta–The Strong Supporter

Having remained on the sidelines for too long, Calcutta had, not too long ago, demonstrated its desire for change, with the overthrow of the Left government. However, what it got as a replacement was far worse than a devil that was known.

With the city sinking deeper and deeper into  a bottomless pit – pathetic infrastructure, poor standards of cleanliness and even poorer maintenance of a few running systems, along with the almost daily attacks on women – Calcutta is just waiting to hit back at people in power who have taken it for a ride for far too long.

AAP is certain to be welcomed here, and the party should not ignore the simmering discontent that spurs the desire for change. Calcutta desperately wants to take its place back in the sun. Trinamool and its old-style politics of the previous century will not work anymore. Wake up and smell the coffee! If Sheila auntie can bite the dust in Delhi, it would be a folly for Mamata didi to avoid the stench of the gutters.

Calcutta can be warm, but it can be boiling hot too. It has a strong support base for new ideas, but its leaders have badly let it down. If there’s an alternative, people will root for it. AAP does provide Kolkatans more than a straw to clutch on – it gives them a rope to hang its demagogues. Taking Kolkatans for granted has proved costly; it will prove costlier now.

Mumbai: The Fence Sitter

India’s Maximum City is, strangely, not stretching itself. In fact, it has recoiled and has perched itself on a fence – not knowing which way to jump. It gave a cold response to Anna; did not come out in large numbers for voting even after 26/11; and it has been content going to watch Dhoom 3 or Sholay 3D, than listen to a third party. Where has that famous ‘Mumbai spirit’ vanished?

Mumbai needs to rework that magic of erstwhile Bombay – that ‘once upon a time in Bombay’ verve. It badly needs to get out of its Shiv Sena-MNS cycle, and latch on to something larger. Surely, Mumbai deserves better than ‘sons of the soil’ netas (who have soiled its large-hearted soul).

Has the city become too cynical, seeing its own downfall over the years, and losing out to its favourite rival, Delhi – the city it loved bashing? Has it already given up the fight for supremacy? My hunch is its fence-sitting will not last too long now. It has to make up its mind whether it stands for the politics of identity or the politics of aspiration. It does not matter if – in taking the right decision – it has to follow its old rival. Sometimes, you can surpass your rivals only by joining them, not by fighting them. Make up your mind, Mumbai! Don’t remain a Mum Bai (silent maid) – try to become a Bom Bay (good bay) again.

Hyderabad — Wayward Wanderer

While the entire nation is humming ‘Aap jaisa koi’, Hyderabad is singing a different tune – Jai Telangana! It seems like a different country, folks! A separatist movement that began first in 1969, is taking root here again in 2014. OMG! Is the nation already in different time zones now? Chalta hai abhi nahin chalega! Why has this city – where I spent the maximum amount of my life – going into reverse gear? I think it’s lost its way somewhere. As long as you have this Telangana-Seemandhra debate, how can you have a brand new topic? Aren’t this borders-territory business a tad outdated?

I don’t want to offend Telangana supporters – some of whom are good friends – but come on! You can’t be serious! Why are you stuck in the 1960s? The whole country is changing. Do the old Hyderabadis feel “woh abhi parson ki to baat hai” – for typical Hyderbadis, parson (day before yesterday) can even mean 20 years ago, or rather 45 years ago in this case. Arrey, light lele yaar, itna latori mat kar (take it easy, don’t loiter around too much). Sadly, that’s what Hyderabad is doing right now – it is wandering aimlessly off tangent, into old, forgotten lanes. If you are still obsessed about a new physical state, how can you think about anything else – least of all about a new state of the mind?

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