(Illustration: Saurabh Singh)
LUTYENS’ DELHI ISN’T just real estate. It’s a state of mind. What’s the current state of Lutyens’ mind?
It is part-fearful, part-angry and, as always, supremely self-obsessed. The looming 2024 Lok Sabha election evokes trepidation. What if Narendra Modi wins a third term? Should we all emigrate to Britain? Wait, no. London’s becoming too rightwing with Boris Johnson promising to wear a red tika on his forehead at the annual NRI Diwali jamboree.
Dubai’s better and nearer. And those Arab women in their fashionable hijabs. Delectable. It’ll be so nice after all that anti-hijab nonsense in Karnataka.
Lutyens (the mind, not the geography) is angry. How has India coped with eight years of Modi? He thinks we’re self-obsessed, but just look at him: huge pictures of Modi stare at us from every newspaper. Not a single day passes when he’s not inaugurating a highway or a hospital. TV channels compete cravenly to praise his God-like eight years as prime minister.
Lutyens’ state of mind resides in many denizens of Delhi: journalists, activists, lawyers, politicians, ex-bureaucrats, ex-armed forces officers, ex-diplomats, ex-judges and ex-socialites.
Who are these people? They are mostly middle-class folk who did well for themselves in the old India. Corruption was plentiful. Cash and kind percolated down the hierarchy. Thus was loyalty to Lutyens built.
Nepotism thrived. Want a job as an anchor at a nice television channel? If you were the son or daughter of an IFS/IAS officer, it’s yours so long as you have the right accent and the left bent of mind.
Dynasty ruled. Your surname mattered. Merit? That was an embarrassing concept, not to be discussed in polite society where the cuisines of Michelin-starred restaurants in London, New York and Dubai were the main focus of intellectual debate.
Politics, you see, had become insufferably boring since 2014. The durbaris, who had worked hard to climb the social and economic ladder for decades, looked at 2024 with a combination of fear and hope. Would Mamata and Kejriwal create a miracle? Would dear old Rahul stop being an absentee landlord? Would the opposition unite?
When your back is to the wall, you form a clique. In Delhi, the media has developed this into a fine art.
A member of the old Lutyens’ media ecosystem will write a searing op-ed in a newspaper that despises the Modi government. The op-ed will be lavishly praised by another old Lutyenite on Twitter thus: “XYZ, lovely piece! I’m sharing it.”
The response comes in quickly: “Thanks so much, ABC!”
And so, incestuously, goes the cycle of this treacly mutual admiration society.
What about Godi media? This is the old durbar’s counter-argument. Hasn’t a large section of the print and electronic media become Modi bhakts? That’s absolutely true. The Indian media bends with the breeze. The same channels that were part of the old durbar are now part of the new durbar.
There, however, is a difference. The old durbar had 70 years to embed sycophancy into its DNA. Dynasty, nepotism and corruption were its molecular markers.
The new durbaris moved into Lutyens’ Delhi in 2014, but have not yet acquired the Lutyens’ state of mind. However, the sycophancy that marked the old durbaris is making a comeback. Modi hasn’t done enough to stop it or even reduce it. That could prove a big mistake.
The first cousin of sycophancy is nepotism. We see signs of it everywhere: in BJP’s junior-level political and academic appointments, in quasi-private bodies like BCCI, and in institutions of governance.
A fish rots from the head down. Congress is a living embodiment of that. For BJP, there is a lesson to be learnt. Cut the sycophancy. It ruined the old India.
Everyone talks nostalgically about the “idea of India” as if writing its obituary. The idea of India as defined by Sunil Khilnani in his 1997 book was of a diverse, democratic India in which dynasty, nepotism and corruption were eliminated.
Khilnani was optimistic. In 1997, Congress had been in power for 45 years of India’s 50 independent years: Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi were in power for 38 of those 45 Congress years; the other seven years were shared by Lal Bahadur Shastri and PV Narasimha Rao.
That was the old idea of India: feudal. The new idea of India must give feudalism a quiet burial.
About The Author
Minhaz Merchant is an author, editor and publisher
Folk goes Feminist Deepansh Duggal
Anxiety to Stay Relevant Amit Khanna
Return to Greatness Zakia Soman