‘Sassoon Dock Art Project’ Photo Essay: A ‘Dock side Reading’

Indian Ocean Bombay come alive. The Sassoon Docks, a reminder of an Imperial Bombay- a Port Trust Area thankfully away from the gaze of the real estate sector have been brought into the spotlight of the Insta generation through art, which has converted the derelict dock into a reimagination through the art of the city, opening registers and invigorating commerce in the Colaba area, as the art set flock to the shores over the weekend. The title of this photo essay draws from Scholar Isabel Hofmeyr’s book of the same name that thinks with hydrocolonialism as a lens that lies the Indian Ocean from Bombay to Natal.

The politics of resistance is subtle in the gentrified global veneer. Water centers Bombay and the curators bring it out well. Hydropolitics as has been written by Nikhil Anand in the context of politics in Mumbai in particular the leaking pipes exhibit depicted a Mumbai which relies on time-based water supplies for sustenance. The exhibits on waves and the relationships of the coast with the city, the artwork and the video montages spoke to an imaginary of the city that has been often lost in the territorial linguistic stasis of politics. A reclaiming of the hydro frontier through art, even of the elitist sort is a relief. The ‘East Indian’ coastal communities of the city, the ‘orang asli’ of the place- have found a register through the art spaces in a roundabout manner. The politics behind art is well layered in the curation. Dalit poetry finds a stage on the walls of the art spaces, to give voice to erased actors.

Curation has a scale and ambition with decay and life sitting together. The writing on the exhibits is sometimes better than the exhibit itself. The writing describing the installations is exquisite and appeals to my sensibilities as an ethnographer.

The festival has an Art Jameel Dubai Indian Ocean Cosmopolitanism aesthetic show cases a Mumbai which rises above its retail politics.

#thesassoondockartproject

The App-ization of Development Discourse

In the recent aftermath of the Deonar dumping ground fire in Mumbai and the non collection of garbage due to union action in Delhi; the conversation on urban environmental governance has been brought into the limelight again before it disappears in the face of other eminent news such as a celebrity scandal . The Swatchch Bharat programme now has a World Bank expert helming it as lateral entry into the bureaucratic leadership which is rare. India, is distinctly urban nowadays  with a constellation of townships around the metropolitan city creating an urban agglomeration; case in point being the Mumbai Metropolitan Regional Development Authority auspices and the National Capital Region.

The cities are simply revenue generating centres with the real political capital emanating in the hinterland. Western Maharashtra vis-a-vis Mumbai and Noida versus the districts of western Uttar Pradesh. Indian cities do not posses the ‘real’ political architecture for contemporary governance. The Mayor of Mumbai is still subordinate to regional authorities sitting in Mantralaya. Delhi as a semi-state is better even sans law and order powers based in the federal home authorities. New York and Bloomberg or Blasio is a dream for the well heeled crowd in Bandra or Malabar Hill. But, does the South Bombay boy vote on polling day rather than taking a drive to the cooler realm of Lonavala?

With the anvil of Delhi Mumbai Industrial Corridor cities of Dholera, GIFT City and Shendra Bhidkin touted as Smart Cities being built as India’s answers to Shenzhen and Pudong Delta, urban solutions have resorted to the technocratic cookie cutter approach rather ground up community centered governance such as ‘Mohalla Sabhas’ or community forums, which the AAP Government in Delhi is pioneering through the Delhi Dialogue Commision. The Shiv Sena is a largely urban party having ruled the Mumbai Corporation for the last 25 years but it has a very different operating system unlike the Aam Admi Party. Delhi certainly voted in last year a very smart ‘App’. Well, that is to be seen in the aftermath of the dengue break and the garbage crisis.

Smart Cities may have the waste management facilities and recreation spaces figured out, but how will the political governance with a small ‘g’ flesh itself out?

The technocratic model of building a smart phone application for all developmental ends seems like a band aid fix. The data needs to be acted upon, and big data needs thick data for the questions to make sense. Geographic Information Systems spatial set and information platforms at a go enables good decision making, but will it tackle the landfill cartel in Mumbai? Or will it simplify land acquisition for the next Metro Project expansion?

Start Up India is well and good with all the sops, but where is the 24×7 power and data grid for such an initiative. The entrepreneurs need to be politically savvy to hack the bureaucracy. Are the App developing start up kids developing a killer app to enable smoother traffic in our cities. Simply more e-commerce unicorns won’t make a better India.

The Development agenda is a political animal. Voters in Mumbai and other metros have voted for the status quo apart from Delhi as the entrenched actors have been re-elected. Urban Development needs a multiplicity of actors  working in sync to execute a level of livability which is aspirational. Sadly, not every problem has a big data fix. South Asia is the hotbed of mega cities, a few solutions need to be drawn from London, Singapore and New York in terms of decentralization of power at the mayoral level.

India-Singapore Relations: Time to move beyond Infrastructure and Finance?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Singapore on the 23rd November for a State Visit to Singapore in a longer follow up visit to earlier on this year when he visited the island city state to join other world leaders after the founding father of Singapore, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew passed away. The general discourse around India-Singapore relations is a prosperous Singapore as an investor in a booming BRIC country market. This narrative driven by the business media is however under-nourished. The Singapore Model of Development pioneered by the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew which brought the city state global fame in transforming itself from ‘The Third World to First World’ has undoubtedly inspired the 100 Smart City program of the Modi Government. The new Greenfield capital of Andhra Pradesh: Amravati is being designed by Singaporean Urban Planners and has cemented the relationship of Singapore as a symbol of urban excellence1. Singapore is the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in India2 and testament to this unique fact is the recent visit of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and a team of bankers including the Managing Director of the State Bank of India to lure institutional investors in to India.  The commercial relationship is a deeply symbiotic one. State Bank of India and ICICI Bank along with others have retail banking licences in Singapore.

Many Indian Start Ups move to Singapore for easier access to capital and regulatory clarity. In the past Spice Group moved base to Singapore. Singaporean Water Technology Major Hyflux has picked up Desalination Projects in Modi’s Gujarat; Singaporean Banks and Sovereign Wealth Funds are increasing their investment footprint in India. Hyderabad based Environmental Infrastructure group Ramky maintains parking lots as a Facilities Management firm all over Singapore.

These examples are however fleeting reflection of the Singapore-India Relationship which shares a deep historical diasporic bond. Singapore is home to a large minority of people of Indian Decent with Deepawali a public holiday and Tamil an official language. There is a significant presence of minsters of Indian decent in the Singaporean Cabinet including Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanamugaratnam. The Indian expatriate community makes its presence felt from blue collared work to the heads of Multinational Corporations including the CEO of DBS Bank, Piyush Gupta, a former Indian National.

The truth is India does not give Singapore the same diplomatic attention as the USA, UK or Canada where there are similar large Indian diaspora communities. Singapore was the first country to embrace enthusiastically India’s ‘Look East Policy’ in the early 1990’s with then Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong visiting Narsimha Rao and his ministerial team.

Last week, the Chinese President visited Singapore to mark 25 years of diplomatic relations and signed a range of agreements including the third joint industrial park in western China and macroeconomic agreements3. Singapore is majority ethnic Chinese but its relationship with China is layered. Singapore has been an ally of the USA from the Cold War era and has hosted American Military Ships in the past. Pragmatic Singaporean policy has nurtured a close relationship with China from the 1970’s since Chairman Deng Xiaoping visited Singapore and opened up the economy after visiting it. The writer does not sense the same intensity in the relationship between India and Singapore at the diplomatic level. The gap however is more than adequately filled up by Indian community organizations and people to people contact. The same story is repeated in Oman, where I grew up.

The Narendra Modi visit has generated a lot of buzz among the Indian Community in Singapore, with community organizers taking the lead to arrange for the logistics for his ‘Madison Square Garden’ style address at the Singapore Expo4. However, only Indian Nationals are encouraged to attend the event as per media reports.

The major language in the Indian diaspora here in Singapore is Tamil and with Narendra Modi’s predisposition with Hindi, how much of it cut will ice with the same community that he is attempting to touch base with, is of question at the present juncture. There has also been a contradictory voice in the Singaporean media in the run up to the visit when Indian American Academic at the National University of Singapore Prof Mohan Jyoti Dutta wrote an opinion piece in the Straits Times on the contemporary politics of identity based on beef and the crackdown on activism in India in the present Modi regime5.

 

“The violence on the margins of Indian society is accompanied by the quick spread of a chilling climate, with a number of prominent rationalists being attacked and/or murdered, allegedly by right-wing religious groups.”

Increase the Soft Power Lens

Singapore is a major mercantile port hub in Asia and a few months back an Indian Coast Guard Vessel on a South East Asia goodwill tour docked at Changi Naval Base, with many of the young sailors in white seen shopping in the Little India Area in Singapore. India competes for influence in the South East Asia region with Asia, where China has a natural advantage with influential diaspora communities who are better connected to structures of power. India’s engagement with Singapore and the region is more effective at an informal business and community level. The overseas Indian Intelligentsia is based here in Singapore with plenty of think tanks at the National University of Singapore and the Nanyang Technological University focused on research themes based on India such as Institute of South Asian Studies. Thousands of Indian Students study in Singapore, and some of them will head back to India to work with the knowledge imbibed in Singapore. Indian Films and TV series have been shot in Singapore since the 1960’s including the Hrithik Roshan starrer ‘Krrish’ which had frames shot in the Business District in Singapore. Indian films both Tamil and Hindi are screened in theatres here as soon as they are released in India, and run to packed houses. The extent of cultural inter-weaving is dense, and the key pillar in the Singapore-India relationship.

The writer hopes that this state visit by Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardas Modi would take the Singapore-India Relationship deeper by engaging the non-elite diaspora who send back remittances and leveraging common areas of strength such as a shared understanding of culture missing from the realpolitik world of diplomacy.

References:

  1. http://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/business/singapore/singapore-delivers-final/1996572.html
  2. . http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/business/india-business/Singapore-replaces-Mauritius-as-top-source-of-FDI-in-India/articleshow/35590304.cms
  3. http://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/xi-to-visit-spore-to-mark-25-years-of-diplomatic-ties
  4. http://www.tremeritus.com/2015/11/08/singapore-restricts-its-citizens-of-indian-origin-from-attending-modis-event/
  5. http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/killed-for-eating-beef-lessons-for-the-world

 

Its all about location Stupid: Gurgaon and its Sociology of Space

I have been a Gurgaon resident for half a year now, which is quite stunning in itself as I thought I would not survive here at all. It is a decent decent place, as I would like to contradict its detractors.  Gurgaon like Navi Mumbai, my quasi hometown is a satellite city originally planned to create space for the working classes to commute to the Central Business District in the morning and drain out the city later in the evening. But these cities have evolved to carve a unique urban footprint of their own with being Corporate Hubs with the signature DLF Cyber City or a Vatika Business Park in Gurgaon. These are all inclusive lifestyle hubs with their customised entertainment focal points as DLF Cyber City has its Cyber Hub with 600 meters of the best eateries lined up from the world over, a Hard Rock Café rubs shoulders with a Thai fine dining restaurant Soi 7 and the Singapore based Wine Company. Eclectic area, pretty women too. Amen.

A similar illustration for Navi Mumbai would be the IT Park Ecosystem around the swanky Vashi Railway Station with eateries, In Orbit Mall and nightlife hotspots  aka Rude Lounge. The Palm beach road resembles Sheik Zayed Road in Dubai more than the spatial landscape of a Nariman Point. The gentrification of Gurgaon and Navi Mumbai is the story of urbanization in India. The upmarket corporate locus Cyber City in Gurgaon is 30 minutes from the International Airport in Delhi and near the south Delhi hotspots of Saket, Vasant Vihar and Greater Kailash. Although the so called Millennium City of Gurgaon has a bad water and electricity issue; the Kohinoor of Haryana grows insatiately in to Rajasthan along the Jaipur Highway (may be because of the lower crime rates in Rajasthan).  Skyscrapers share the boundary wall with a society next door of low height buildings all over Gurgaon. DLF Phase 3 with U Block and Sahara Mall with Chakkarpur in Phase II which gives you a feel of a tier 3 town in India than Downtown Mumbai.  Gurgaon is much for the folks in Chakkarpur and U Block as it is for the Golf Course Road Residents. Local Politician Tayyib Hussein competes with a Yogendra Yadav and Rao Inderjit Singh here for the Parliamentary seat.

The spatial geography of Gurgaon follows the norms associated with Sociology of Space eschewed by Marxist Theorists such as David Harvey and Henri Lefebvre. The capital is concentrated round regions with access to markets and consumers. The money circulating in the global circuit of free market gung ho capitalism is embedded symbolically in the office towers of Gurgaon. Top Dollar Attracts Top Dollar, as simple as that crude maxim. The gated communities of DLF Phase 5 and Golf Course Road exude elitist values of exclusivity and privilege with American Style Suburban Homes. Exit a gated community and you are back to the harsh reality of pot holes which depict the crater of the moon than an urban centre. A light shower and the roads of Gurgaon are a muddy puddle. There seems to be governance disconnect somewhere.

The ordinary chap in Gurgaon drinks at Machan- a term burrowed from Punjabi for an open Attic at a countrywide home. The Machan in Gurgaon is a social institution (positioned next to an office complex at a traffic intersection like the Sector-29 Machan) as one (a lower to middle income working class chap) purchases the booze at the adjoining alcohol shop and get in to sit at an open air eatery where they have a rather mediocre band chugging out even more average fare which I guess suits the musical tastes of the intoxicated patron who wishes to forget the petty office politics. It is an embodiment of all the male stereotypes ringing in popular culture. It is an all-boys club.  The saving grace is the absence of a pole dance platform. The food is palatable, I must admit.

As the Indian Urbanization Story blazes its tracks, the spatial dynamics speaks a lot for the terms of reference regarding social justice.

 

 

Urban Infrastructure- Its about Politics Stupid!

Indian Cities are expanding, by leaps and bounds. The National Capital Region and The Greater Mumbai Region are urban agglomerations which are power centers of our economy. Every second tier Indian City is growing to accommodate the aspirations of the Indian with access to Google and hence the window to the world on their Nokia Asha’s and Micromax’s. Folks from the lower socioeconomic strata take selfie’s on their Chinese made Xylo phones in the Delhi Metro. The Smart Phone is a symbolic totem of an aspiring India and a powerful force multiplier. The Naya Raipurs and Greater Raigad’s are the future of urbanization in the country. The ten odd nodes of the Multi-Billion Dollar Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DIMC) driven new smart cities off a fresh template mirroring the Pudong-Pearl River Delta model of the early 1980’s made China the factory of the world. The DIMC Development Corporation is led by Amitabh Kant, a dynamo of a civil servant which shatters the stereotype of a sarakari babu. Aggressive Visionary Leaders make a world of a difference. Narendra Modi has put the Dholera node of DIMC in Gujarat near Amdavad on steroids with the work progressing on a firm footing.

A BJP led administration from May 2014 would be an enabler for creating urban infrastructure as its voter base is the urban middle class, while in contrast the Congress was welfare scheme oriented as its target consumer oops voter was different.  The Urban Voter is being taken seriously finally with Modi and Kejriwal vying for their vote.  Kejriwal and the Aam Admi Party have been paradigm shifters for bringing the focus back on the urban voter. Prof. Yogendra Yadav from Gurgaon and an Ashutosh from Chandani Chowk would be a welcome add to  debates in the Lok Sabha. The Candidature of IT Visionary Nandan Nilekani from Bengaluru South is a sign that Indian Politics is finally accepting the urban professional.

The Urban voterscape is a myriad canvas of actors.   Gurgaon is about a Chakkarpur and Cyber City equally. The Aam Admi Party has a strong appeal for the urban poor in the National Capital Region and Kejriwal’s antics have delivered them the message that we can have a voice in the Vidhan Sabha too.  Urban Governance is ultimately about equitable access to public services. The Quality of Life has to improve. The Urban ecosystem is complex with multiple stakeholders with different stakes in the game.  Urban India can win only if they vote in the forthcoming polls.

Press the Button, gently.

‘Tapri’ Tales: Conversations over Cutting Chai

Tapri can be identified as a humble rambled neighborhood corner tea stall which sells you a smoke, biscuits and snacks. Its significance as a locus of community engagement goes beyond the unimpressive physical confines which it depicts.  This urban street corner joint is a great social leveler in which the office boy interacts with the MD as both share a crackle over a smoke, whether it is a chota gold flake or Rothmans (brands are insignificant as it is the nicotine kick that counts, right?). In aping the west, the Glitzy office blocks are non smoking zones, and even the overseas educated snobs are compelled to share the space with mundane workforce cousins of the office complex.  I do not have a negative bias against smoking as I understand that it is a lifestyle choice as much as a drink at a pub on a Saturday evening.

 Office Gossips and petty plans are concocted over a cutting chai in the five minute post lunch walkabout downstairs.  A node of interactions with peers beyond your office floor; a quick eye to eye  glance with the latest eye candy in the block, adds those microseconds of joy to ones dreaded cubicle slavery.

I do not smoke but I have been a passive smoker over the last few years of my life due to my friends who enjoy a drag. I can sense the kick which esteemed bosses have when they substitute their Cappuccino at Costa for a 6 rupees wala cutting chai. 8% of the cost, 8 times more kick with a chota gold flake.  Tapri as they call the significant social institution in Mumbai sells you poha or samosa for breakfast or a quick bite in 15-20 rupees where a normal meal at a registered eatery will set you back by at least 50-70 bucks (kindly excuse the hygiene levels please). For the invisible urban underbelly that keeps our homes, offices and communities functioning at equilibrium- the tapris are a lifeline in these times of inflation and economic uncertainty.

In Delhi and in general the NCR, Tapris offer a lot more on the plate (pun intended) in terms of the fare they serve. It is cold currently in the height of the winter in Delhi, it serves one eggs, maggi and sometimes steamed chicken dumplings (momos) that makes one warm.  It is a mini eatery on wheels in a way.  The tapri owner is a walking talking yellow pages of the services available in the area. Well, sometimes all kinds of services, which a decent boy next door really does not need to know off.

The pulse of a community can be gauged from frequenting the tapri, whether it is the sentiment over Arvind Kejriwal dharna at Rail Bhawan or Katrina Kaif in Malang.  I was pleasantly shocked that the tapri next door sells the Indonesian cigarette Godam Garam and it pretty popular I have unscientifically observed during winter. Although the barely literate tapri owner is aware that it is an ‘imported’ cigarette, it is the embodiment of how globalization has reached the urban classes in India.

The joy of a cutting chai, pani kum or strong tea cannot be equated with the inorganic finesse of a CCD.  Truly a lot more happens over a chai 🙂

 

Urbanity : tale of a guy next door through globalization

This initiative of words is an attempt to celebrate the ordinariness of a boy next door, to break the myth of the super achiever and to quite revel in the constant stream of consciousness called life. My work also attempts to make sense of the post colonial, post risk world that we reside in with multiple mega forces that impact cities. Urbanization and Globalization are terms which we read or hear from self proclaimed pundits every day but what does it mean to a normal guy  in the cubicle making a living when interacting with the meta structures of global governance. It is my en-devour to operationalize these vague jargon’s through my personal journey via Muscat, Singapore, Mumbai & Gurgaon with other places making a special appearance.  The deeply challenging personal negotiation with my multiple identities is the backdrop, Writing for me is a deeply meditative experience.

  An autobiographical narrative from a first persons perspective will be candid, engaging and straight up. In this season of the Aam Admi, a guy next door shall unravel an intricate web of ideas unearthing cities, communities, breaking down phenomena into meaningful meaning. A story of the city, with all the sacred chaos.
 
Urban Democracy with Digital engagement and Sustainability with all its various nuances will be explored at a individual-society relationship level. In this meaning making initiative, I hope you would join me as i attempt to move beyond conference papers and taking blogging to a next level.  My book will be published online, if i do not find a publisher. Well I am not a Ivy League or IIM alum. Only those folks find publishers in India.
 
 

Politics in Urban India needs a reboot: an exegesis

India is rapidly urbanizing as cities expand into the hinterland and form urban mega clusters like the National Capital Region and the Mumbai Metropolitan Region among others. Even Kolkata has a ‘New Town’ and Rajarhat to contend.  Cities are economic engines of growth with densely packed spaces and brimming with activity.  By the year 2030, as per an influential Mc Kinsey Report on urbanization states that, India will be predominantly urban.  Most state capitals are urban agglomerations, and provide most of the revenue for the state. Mumbai contributes India’s lion share of corporate taxes but gets peanuts in return from politicians whose voter base is hooked on ‘sugar’ in Western Maharashtra. Mumbai is a Cash Cow for these rural politicians to milk Mumbai dry in order to fund their ‘Pork Barrel’ projects (sorry borrowing an American Political Nuance 😛 ). Mumbai on the same lines as Delhi will not be given autonomy for this very reason as other backward regions in Maharashtra are financially on a drip line called Mumbai. Cultural reasons apart, the devolution of power to Mumbai is difficult only for the cash question in contention.   As a third generation Marathi speaking Mumbaikar, who has lived in first world capitals in our very own Asia; am honestly appalled by the traffic quicksand which I face at the bottle neck at Ghatkoper and Saki Naka everyday when I travel from far away Navi Mumbai.  Mumbai is currently going to have a Mass Transit Line soon; unfortunately we are two decades late.  A commercial backwater (or an art centric vanguard which ever pov one looks at) such as Kolkata had a Metro System way back in the 1980’s.

The urban voter’s needs are neglected. Municipal Corporations are archaic institutions with no teeth; no policing prowess and normally short changing on financing options.  A government in a union territory like Delhi has no jurisdiction over Law and Order and Land Issues and has two to three Municipal bodies with the Central Governments over arching Big Brother attitude. It is quite a quagmire of overlapping scope of work in Consultant Speak. With the rest of NCR either lying in Haryana (Gurgaon) or UP (NOIDA)- Urban Governance needs a new operating system.  

The Mumbai Metropolitan Region has the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM), Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation and Vasai-Virar Municipal Corporation as its stakeholders with Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) as the focal point for Infrastructure development in this megapolis.  The MMRDA is under the Maharashtra State Government’s Urban Development Ministry which is under a Congress Chief Minister, the Public Works Ministry with its unfriendly coalition partner NCP and the MCGM is under the control of the Opposition BJP-Shiv Sena. The MCGM’s budget is more than many a budget of a smaller state like Goa and Manipur.  These political conflicting turfs make for haphazard planning and execution of mega infrastructure projects.  There should be a single window clearance mechanism for such projects which reshape the economic landscape.

India needs a new social contract with its urban citizens. Parliamentarians from urban India are not able to reflect the aspirations of a rapidly globalizing youth. The Politics of this nation is stuck in 1970’s with Right to Food, Education and other welfarist legislations. Social Infrastructure public sector initiatives are fully supported by the author but in order to power these projects, one needs the cash, hard cold cash. The cities are the growth incubators. Empower them with good politics. Effective governance is tied in to good politics.  A new politics is required for reform;  new operating system which captures the aspirations of urban India. The existing parties are terribly falling short. A Milind Deora or a Sandeep Dixit is great, but we need a sea of them.  We need the ‘Citizen Elite’ to rise and usher in a new wave of caste neutral development centric urban politics.

Politics of the Urban Voter is not new. The Swatantra Party, the Jan Sangh and especially the Mumbai and Marathi centric identity politics of the Shiv Sena. The Right Wing Parties with their emphasis on free market and physical infrastructure focus have been better at capturing the urban imagination.  The Swantantra Party decayed and declined in the 1960’s as socialism became the voice of economic thinking during Nehru ji and Indira ji. Even the Congress has appropriated some of these tactics to win in Delhi and Mumbai over the past decade.  Sheila Dixit with the Delhi Metro is a case in point where urban development has worked for a left of centre Congress in a totally urban electorate.

 The Shiv Sena is a ‘Made in Mumbai’ urban ideological product. The Shiv Sena founded by cartoonist turned Hindutva icon Late Balasaheb Thackeray in 1966 at Shivaji Park, Dadar distilled the grudge of native Marathis in Mumbai against the ‘Outsider’ over the decades till it reached its zenith of power in 1995 when they reached Mantralaya in the aftermath of the 1993 riots. Although the urbane politics of the Shiv Sena was narrow and parochial; they transformed Mumbai City with 72 flyovers in five years from 1995-99. The Mumbai-Pune Expressway was a signature project of the regime.

The Aam Admi Party with Civic Society Activist Arvind Kejriwal has transformed a volunteer led citizen movement in to a political fighting force. In the opinion polls in the run up to the Delhi Assembly Polls it is poised to do phenomenally well for a first time entrant. If they succeed, they are poised to be India’s first and truly urban political voice. Lok Satta is another one down south. Such actors are needed, as microbes in the governance gut to clean up the digestive system known as politics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rubanised India: Changing Development Narratives

A lot of states in India are predominantly urban. Delhi NCR, Haryana, Goa, Punjab along with Coastal  Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat have urban landscapes. A large number of folks have moved on from agriculture to the service economy, given up their lands in lieu for SEZ’s and made an attempt to join the community of wage earners in the network economy. Four Lane Highways are built, new factories are set up- the marginal farmer now works as a gate keeper in on the same piece of land his farm land used to be on (Ala the movie Shanghai). This has made a few farmers rich who drive Pajeros in Gurgaon but the tenant farmers who are now landless move to cities to join the unorganized economy.

Urbanization and the proliferation of towns and new expanded cities are the locus of the neo middle class with global aspirations. He wants to send his kid to a public school and not a Kendriya Vidyalaya and works in a IT related job. The new workforce is tiny and has transitioned past caste or religion based affirmative action to find them work. This although has not changed basics: attitudes towards women, religion still plays a major role in our social fabric and the ills of caste still persist.

As cities expand in to the hinterland, the villages in the periphery of these cities demonstrate symbols of modernity such as a motor bike and a dth box on terraces. Sadly these same places lack clean drinking water and primary health centres that are poorly staffed.

Rubanization is a two way lane; the physical infrastructure will have to complimented by social software of cultural up gradation, medical facilities and maintaining natural social capital. Urban communities have a propensity to rediscover identities in their faith and exert a community centric politics. Delhi Sikh Riots and Gujarat 2002 are illustrations to make that point robust.

The politics of urban India is changing too. Manifestos proclaim the free distribution of laptops and slogans of India Shining and Bengal Leads flood the airwaves. This though has extremely limited political payoff. The mantra of Bijli Sadak Paani is commonplace in political discourse. Newer actors have entered the scene such as the Aam Admi Party and Team Anna, espousing Middle Class India’s grievances. The Shiva Sena and MNS base their survival on the Urban Vote, along with the BJP and the Congess in Delhi.

Narendra Modi’s victory for the third term has vital implications for the politics of urban development in our country. Modi won 80% of the urban seats in Gujarat to drive home his win. Dixit in Delhi is the three term CM of the Congress with a urban banner.

The down side of rubanization is the inability of our economy to create meaningful employment away from the land. The Demographic Dividend can tick way to a Demographic timebomb if proper environment and opportunities are not rendered to the youth. In this Web 2.0 globalised age of social media on our cell phones, expectations are rising and the demand is not being met by the education sector nor by the industry. Frustrations can leads to a politics of politics and parochialism if not checked in time. Structural reforms are needed to create jobs.Development is often all about employment. Youth are already angry with the inflation and the widening chasm between the have and the have nots. Not everyone can join the global economic mainstream. It needs a distinctive skill set. The MBA degree is now a mere pre requisite for a job of any sort.

This mega trend will accelerate in the coming decade and has a potential impact on politics and demographics beyond current estimates. Interesting times are certainly coming up.