01 Oct 2023  |   06:45am IST

Slimed by South Delhi

Vivek Menezes

Last week, the grand new Parliament building inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as ‘the temple of democracy’ was grossly befouled by his own party comrade Ramesh Bidhuri, the Lok Sabha representative from South Delhi. In an abusive rant plumbing an unprecedented new low for national discourse since 1947, the 62-year-old career politician and lifelong RSS man volleyed hateful gaalis at Danish Ali of the Bahujan Samaj Party: “yeh Mullah aatankwaadi hai, ugrawaadi hai. Bharwa, katua, baahar phenko iss mulle ko.”

The victim described his assault in a dignified letter of appeal to Modi: “in addition to Shri Bidhuri’s threats to confront me outside Parliament, in a manner more akin to a street altercation than a parliamentary setting, certain unknown individuals are persistently sending me threatening and menacing messages. I urge you to remind all Members of Parliament of the importance of upholding the highest standards of decorum and conduct within the House, as the whole world looks upon us as a torchbearer of parliamentary democracy. Such indecent incidents should have no place in our democracy.”

All that is impressively high-minded, but the truth is disgraceful indecency is now commonplace in Indian democracy. What is more, Bidhuri has not been punished – although a ‘show-cause notice’ has been issued – and instead entrusted as ‘party in-charge’ of the campaign to unseat Sachin Pilot in Rajasthan. This level of brazenness bodes very badly, as Vir Sanghvi puts bluntly in his latest column: “India is sinking deeper and deeper into the morass of divisiveness and hatred [which] has now penetrated so deep that nobody can stop it.”

Sanghvi says these previously unthinkable outbursts have official sanction: “We know why the Modi government is doing nothing to condemn Bidhuri’s remarks - it is election season again. It needs to keep the Hindutva faction faithful on its side in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and other states. That may also explain why Bhopal MP Pragya Thakur has been allowed to get away with calling Nathuram Godse a ‘deshbhakt’ (patriot) yet again. When she praised Godse on previous occasions, she was upbraided and the PM said how unhappy her remarks made him.Not this time, though. There is an assembly election coming up.”

Whatever the cause, no one can remain unconcerned by the rapid normalization of loutish rhetoric and behaviour, because Bidhuri is no outlier. At the heart of things in South Delhi, he is amongst the most prominent public faces of the newly rich who define the country at this juncture. It’s difficult to digest, but here’s the undeniable fact: these are the wealthiest and (at least superficially) most globalized North Indians in history, and this boorish vulgarian is their chosen representative. Watching this debacle from Goa, where these same South Delhi elites are descending in unseemly droves, it begs an obvious question: what kind of mess are they going to create here next?

“The growing and disturbing feeling is that the majority of South Delhi’s elite think bigotry is part of life now,” says Sunit Arora, the well-known journalist and editor who has spent most of life in that iconic locality: “many people in this well-off constituency do not agree with Bidhuri's views, but are conspicuous by their silence. The elite has come to accept mainstreaming of hate, and most view speaking out as dangerous and unwise. Remember that in August, next-door Gurgaon shut down due to communal violence. It does not seem far away and nobody is totally insulated, so the pragmatic South Delhi-wallah will keep his/her counsel. They are not going to man the trenches in the battle against hate.”

Rather uniquely, Arora spans the South Delhi elites and their favourite North Goa neighbourhoods, because his grandfather was Anthony Lancelot Dias (1910-2002) of Assagao and the Indian Civil Service officer, who served as the Governor of Tripura and West Bengal throughout the 1970s. When I wrote to ask about Bidhuri’s cohorts swarming his ancestral village, he cautioned me to remember good things South Delhi people could bring, like “a sense of business, hustle and an ability to make things happen.” But this was his unavoidable bottom line: “they might ignore or stay neutral when they see hate and unfairness being stoked there. It all depends on the enabling environment. I do fear hatred will find oxygen in Goa too, despite the beautiful balance sustained over many hundreds of years.”

Who will take moral responsibility for the havoc South Delhi is visiting willy-nilly on the safety and stability of the entire country? In this regard, I was struck by the questions the brilliant, prolific and multi-talented author Rakhshanda Jalil posed on social media earlier this week: “Dear Friends in South Delhi, many of you have chosen Ramesh Bhiduri to represent you in the Lok Sabha for the second consecutive term. Are you proud of his conduct in Parliament? Do you condone it? Will you stand by your elected representative no matter what the cost of your silence?” 

In her outstanding 2019 book But You Don’t Look Like A Muslim, Jalil had written with great poignancy that “I have heard this comment delivered in tones ranging from surprise to approval. With time, I have understood, the speaker is trying to give me a back-¬handed compliment. Since I don’t look like a Muslim, I am ‘okay’, I am not quite one of ‘them’—the bomb-throwing, beef-smuggling, jehad-spouting Muslim of popular imagination.” At first appraisal, she writes, “I sound like anyone else raised in Delhi, snobbish as we are—in South Delhi to be precise.” Now, post-Bidhuri, when I wrote to ask her to elaborate on this self-appraisal, she explained that “when we refer to South Delhi we generally mean a type… they speak in a certain way, they go to eat at certain places, they holiday abroad, have friends from a small somewhat incestuous group.”

When I asked what can be expected from this ‘type’ in India’s smallest state, Jalil warned “there has to be a spirit of giving to the community, of having a sense of community in the first place. The influx of new home owners can't afford to live in enclaves of their own making. We have seen this happening to hill stations within driving distance of North Indian cities, such as Chandigarh-Manali-Simla, or Delhi-Nainital, Delhi-Mussoorie. A dreadful homogenisation is followed by an equally dreadful hegemonization. Restaurants begin serving a certain kind of cuisine at the expense of local/native culinary traditions, cityscapes begin to change with no regard for local design sensibilities, dress, culture, value systems become casualties and finally a ‘cookie-cutter culture’ becomes the norm. I sincerely hope, Goa doesn't go the way of Nainital, Mussoorie, Shimla.”

Make no mistake, there is considerable cause for alarm here. Says Jalil: “The South Delhi/farmhouse types that are descending on Goa will bring their own brand of ‘mainnu ki’ (how does it matter to me?). It comes with a combination of thick skin and water-off-a-duck’s back attitude. Nothing fazes them. Nothing quite penetrates their echo chamber. They are the classic instance of the deaf who won’t hear, and the mute who won’t speak. God help you, they will bring their special brand of blythe, blasé disregard for anything outside their comfort zone. They will hang out with ‘people like us’ and the rest of the world can go to blazes.”

(Vivek Menezes is a writer and co-founder of the Goa Arts and Literature Festival)


Idhar Udhar