New and Old India

By Dinesh Wagle

Old India trudges through waterlogged roads; new India flies. This is because Indian democracy is dictated by the flourishing middle class, according to a professor.

facets of india kathmandu post
Facets of India. Kathmandu Post (15.07.10)

The eagerly awaited monsoon arrived last week in Delhi bringing great relief to the residents. The temperature dropped by as much as 10 degrees celsius to 30. Clouds covered the sun. A cool breeze could be felt while walking on the streets. Heaven. But then another problem appeared soon after. Roads were waterlogged forcing vehicles to move at a snail’s pace. At some points traffic signals stopped working. A trip to the swanky Select City Walk mall in Saket from Jangpura took almost two hours. It’s normally a less than half an hour journey. This is Old India.

New India, on the other hand, flies. That too from a newly built world class terminal soon. With the completion of work at Terminal 3, Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport has gotten a facelift. Prime Minister Manmonah Singh inaugurated the three billion dollar terminal on June 3. While doing so the Prime Minister declared the forceful arrival of his country to the powerful stage of advanced nations. “An airport is often the first introduction to the country,” said Singh. “A good airport would signal a new India, committed to join the ranks of modern industrialised nations.”

The world has certainly taken note of the arrival of new India. Powerful nations are seriously considering enlisting the country along with a few others as permanent member of the UN Security Council. To take part in such meetings that have a lasting impact on world affairs, the Indian prime minister travels to Washington as frequently as Nepali prime ministers arrive in New Delhi. But New India has some confidence issues too. Terminal 3 is an example.

The biggest public building of India was scheduled to open to the public on July 15. But citing some “confidence issues” and alleged lack of necessary equipment, the terminal will come into full usage from July 28. The terminal needed some trial flights, argued the company that runs the IGI airport, so as to gain confidence to operate fully. Airlines, on the other hand, have complained of a lack of necessary infrastructures like backend offices and wire connections at the counters.

The reasons may vary but the fact remains that India has built a world class airport terminal and nothing can stop it from coming into operation very soon. Yes, there are critics who question why there is so much extravagance in a country with millions of people who can’t even imagine buying an air ticket, let alone fly. That is where democracy comes in.

“I am proud of India because it is a democracy,” said Prof. Dr N Sridharan of Delhi’s School of Planning and Architecture. “But democracy is also the system of survival of fittest,” he told me. The fitter and more powerful you are the greater the chances of you receiving better treatment. As the Indian middle class is becoming larger (300 million and counting), richer and more powerful, the professor said, it’s also becoming influential over the government. The Indian democracy may not have become “for the middle class and to the middle class” yet but there’s no way political parties can stay in power without appeasing them. As they become richer, they demand more facilities and better infrastructure. The common man (aamadmi), meanwhile, watches the extravaganza from the sidelines. [Related link: New Delhi of Old India]

The second part of this article, published in yesterday’s Kathmandu Post, is related to July 5 Bharat Bandh which is available here

An Encounter with a Baburam Bhattarai Supporter in Delhi

words of wisdom_Kathmandu_Post.08July2010
Kathmandu Post 08.07.2010

The young man is from Dr. Bhattarai’s constituency in Gorkha district

By Dinesh Wagle

It was the hottest June day in five years, Delhi boiling at 45 degrees Celsius. I was waiting for someone at the international airport. There I met him. He had gone there to receive one of his relatives from Kathmandu who was supposed to stop overnight in Delhi before flying to Moscow the next morning (He had a 16-hour long transit). That didn’t materialise. The traveller wasn’t allowed to go out of the airport. We drove back to the city centre together.

“I have been living in Delhi for the last four years,” he said. “India is the best place for a Nepali like me who doesn’t mind working hard for a living.”

There’s no official data but there are estimated five million Nepalis living and working in India. Vast majority of those who work do so in unorganised sectors: security guards, cooks/waiters and other lowly positions in private and government institutions. There’s no reason to complain for the poorest country in the region that has miserably failed to create jobs for its citizens.

Sujan Lamichhane came to Delhi to work as a peon in a private office three years after finishing his school. He worked as a waiter in a restaurant in Kathmandu for some years before coming here. The man from Gorkha district admitted himself in a college in Delhi while he continued with the job as peon. Continue reading An Encounter with a Baburam Bhattarai Supporter in Delhi

Meghalaya, India: Marriage is Not a Private Affair

Patriarchal and Hindu Nepali migrant coalminers marry matriarchal and Christian Khasi indigenous women in India’s Meghalaya state. Read on to find out what happens

By Dinesh Wagle
Wagle Street Journal

Kul Bahadur Magar, his wife Deng and their children.

Marriages, history shows us, are often tactical arrangements between rulers to expand empires, strengthen political alliances, establish peace between warring nations, avoid wars or create harmony in a conflict-ridden society. The Romans did it, the Mughals followed suit, and Nepal’s rulers were no different, in the seventh century marrying off Princess Bhrikuti to powerful emperor Songtsan Gampo of Tibet. Similarly, in the eighth century, King Jayadev II of Nepal brought home Rajyamati, daughter of Harshavardan, the king of Kamrup, Assam.

In contrast, when Kul Bahadur Magar, a Nepali coalmine worker in an area of Meghalaya that borders Kamrup, married Deng, a local ethnic Khasi woman, he did not have lofty goals of alliance building or peace-making. “Who thinks like that?” asked 45-year-old Magar. “I liked her, she liked me. We were both young and one day we married.” That was 13 years ago. Since then, the couple has been living peacefully in a shack with their four children, near the coalmine where Magar works. But their peace has now been shattered. The simmering mistrust between Nepali-speakers and the local Khasi community erupted into full-scale conflict during the course of May. Several Gorkhas (Nepali-speaking Indians) and migrants from Nepal were killed, the tragedies highlighting the constant vulnerability of both categories of Nepali-speaking residents of the Northeast. (Khasi Nepali Ethnic Conflict in Meghalaya, India)

Two years ago an ethnic conflict arose in a small town called Barsora in East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya, a north-eastern Indian state. The Khasis who are majority in the state that has other indigenous communities like Garos and Jaintias, started evicting Nepali migrant labourers who toiled in the coal mines there. A group of leading Nepali migrants from Ladrampai, the commercial hub of neighbouring Jaintai Hills district, went there to hold talks with the locals. Locals had four complaints against migrants: 1. You steal our jobs. 2. You consume alcohol and crate nuisance at public places. 3. You are involved in terrorist activities. 4. You marry our women and help destroy our culture. Continue reading Meghalaya, India: Marriage is Not a Private Affair