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Is it time to move the administrative Capital out of Delhi?

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When it was decided to shift the capital from Calcutta to Delhi in 1911, Lord Curzon, who had been eased out by then for his failed project to partition Bengal, retorted that the government would be “shut off…from the rest of India.” How clairvoyant!

Consider the following.

Elections to MP, Rajasthan, Chattisgarh and Delhi were held in Dec 2013. BJP swept in three states—44.34% of the 7.78cr voters of MP, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh chose BJP. Still what did capture media space and attention during election analysis? The confused mandate of the 78.74 lac Delhi-ites! The fact that AAP secured 28 seats —a minority in Delhi Assembly—trumped the decisive mandate of 7.78 cr voters of three states.

While Delhi’s increasing pollution level is a matter of serious concern and should attract media attention (including of course the hilarious odd-even formula), how does it justify ignoring Chennai floods for days?

The rape of Nirbhaya outraged the entire nation, rightfully so. But why did similar incidents across the country not evoke any such response? Is the modesty of a woman in interior India any less sacred than that of a Delhi-ite?

But then why don’t they get reported? Why don’t they generate interest?

Simply because Delhi is the media capital. Simply because there is no India for media beyond the 1,500 sq. kms of Delhi or a few more thousand sq. kms that cover the National Capital Region.

The 85 years of being the seat of power has infested Delhi with a pompous class—a mafia— of media personalities, which has come to think that it is the only representative of India, and that it alone decides what India is and how it should be perceived by the rest of the world. The onset of electronic media in early 90s has accentuated the clout of this class.

Consider the following.

Elections to the legislative assembly of Delhi are scheduled for February 2015? This group starts its preparations two months in advance. Sporadic incidents of petty thefts are spun as motivated attacks on churches so that the right thinking people—and there is no dearth of such people in secular Delhi—start wondering whether the entire Christian community, all of a sudden, has been pushed to live in fear. That this group succeeded in its attempt is borne out by the election results.

Bihar elections are scheduled for November 2015? This group swings into action a month ahead of the elections and bloats the Dadri incident. The resources at its beck and call are amazing. Within days, intellectuals across the country rush to surrender the awards they had gotten in the past more by pulling the strings than by exhibiting talent. An impression of intolerance is created. Foreign media latch on to this make-believe scenario. A couple of Bollywood personalities add fuel to fire. Result: Bihar elections are won by Nitish & Co.

It is not that this group is successful in influencing the results of all elections. Examples of its failed ventures are the Lok Sabha elections of 2014 and the recent by elections in UP, MP, Bihar, Karnataka and other states. What is the common thread through these two elections? They are spread over a large geography and this pompous Delhi group has not yet acquired the clout or capability to distort elections spread over different territories. But it is only a matter of time before this group equips itself for the task.

What should be done now?

The first and natural response will be to confront this elite class and call its bluff. But it is sure to fail for the following reasons.

  • It is an amorphous and shameless group. Faced with a reverse, it disintegrates, hibernates and surfaces after a while. One can never be certain that the group has been defeated and put down once and for all. Take for example the Radia tapes. Vir Sanghvi went out of circulation for a few months and resurfaced with a book. Barkha Dutt, on the other hand, decided that an unconvincing debate in her channel gave her the moral authority to continue. Take another example – crime against women. After drawing flak for trying to defend her boss in the indefensible sexual assault case, Shoma Choudhury disappeared from media space for a few months only to come back as editor-in-chief of a web-based magazine. Within days of being caught in paedophilia sting in London, Hasan Suroor is back with his column in The Tribune.
  • Facts and logic do not matter to this group. That the attacks on churches were isolated incidents and were not a choreographed assault on a religion or that the nun in West Bengal was raped by Bangladeshi nationals and it had nothing to do with intolerance of Hindus or that the Dadri incident might have resulted from personal grudge does not make any difference to their narrative.

In view of the above, the best way to deal with the media mafia is to cut it down to size. To isolate it. Consider for a moment the capital is shifted out of Delhi. Where does it leave the media mafia? Action will shift to a new city. Lutyens where the media personalities have invested their life’s fortunes will become just a piece of real estate—much like what Kolkata has come to be now a days after the capital was shifted out of it in 1931. If a simple fact that Modi ignores mainstream media and communicates through twitter can make the mainstream media so insecure that the Editors’ Guild of India cries foul, imagine what a major move like shifting the capital will have on the mainstream media?

Arguments that it will amount to running away from the problem are frivolous. For 13 years that Modi was the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Gandhinagar was just a capital from where he ruled the state. But twenty months into power at the centre, Modi government is yet to rise above the cacophony of the Delhi media and focus on national issues. Add to these the nuisance Arvind Kejriwal, a pliable ally of the Delhi mafia, creates every other day, by raising centre-state issues one after another to divert the attention from his non-performance.

Modi cannot afford to waste the remaining three years. Shifting the capital out of Delhi is, after all, not a new idea. While this article argues for shifting it to Jabalpur because of rising inflation, poor infrastructure and unproductive political activities like protests and dharnas, another one in Swarajya prefers Pataliputra as the new capital.

Finally, Arnab Goswami’s admission in this video that being away from Delhi helps him in not getting emotionally attached to any politician or a political party merits attention.

Why now?

Interestingly one of the reasons Lord Hardinge gave for shifting the capital in 1911 was the strong presence of nationalist forces in Calcutta and the ‘burgeoning opposition to British rule’. By implication, was Delhi, which was the capital of Mughals for 150 years, less nationalistic in Brits’ view? We would not know.

What is known is that a part of JNU and a few senior media celebrities pride themselves as anti-nationals. As of now the TRP’s of these channels and therefore their reach, are negligible when compared to those of Times Now, which strongly supports the nationalistic sentiments. One wonders why these channels want to risk their viewership and go against mass sentiment. The argument that it is their commitment to a principle is laughable given their reluctance/refusal to air video clips, which show the anti-national slogans of the students. Profit and cash flows are paramount. The questionable methods by which at least one media house seems to have raised money in the past go to prove this. This being so, if media houses continue to profess views, which result in a sharp fall in their viewership, does one have to infer that they are adequately being compensated for airing unpopular views and suffering a TRP drop?

As explained earlier, the Delhi media group has been having reasonable success in establishing a perception it wants to create. And you have to give it to them for their perseverance. Even after 14 years, it has not accepted defeat in the Gujarat riots issue.

One day or other, sooner or later, they may establish that it is “cool” to be anti-national.

Before that, let us move the capital out of Delhi.

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