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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Never the twain shall meet

At the MMRDA grounds, Mumbai, early this week.

Thanks to Anna Hazare, the rivalry between Delhi and Mumbai has just found itself a new front on which to play out: political apathy. The unexpected whimper with which his campaign petered out in Mumbai on Wednesday, 27 December, shocked both Team Anna and media watchers.

Anna’s team had ensured that all arrangements had been made to make supporters in Mumbai comfortable and the state administration too had also provided security but when push came to shove, very few people turned up at the huge MMRDA grounds, which was expected to be at the centre of the action. At the launch of Anna’s fast for a strong Lokpal, reports suggested there were 4,000 and 10,000 people at the venue. The figure dropped to about 300 people on the following day.

August 22, 2011, New Delhi.

Contrast that with scenes from the Ramlila grounds in New Delhi in the latter half of August this year. The grand old man of Ralegan Siddhi drew crowds of 40,000 people every day of his fast. Flag-waving citizens wearing Anna topis, caps printed with ‘I am Anna’, and shouting anti-corruption slogans were a common sight on city streets and there was even some absurd talk that the scent of the Arab Spring had wafted to Indian shores.

But those who know India’s two biggest metropolises aren’t really surprised. I grew up in Urbs Prima in Indis, the city by the sea where dreams go to flower and sometimes die. I now live in Delhi where nothing is as it seems, where the unspoken lingers like a powerful phantom and regulates every social interaction, where every choice you make is a political one, where you are evaluated on the basis of who your parent/spouse is as opposed to Mumbai’s straightforward WYSIWYG* way.

To me, Anna’s movement’s anti-climactic moment in Mumbai once more underlined the inherent difference between the two cities. Though the supportive parallel fast at Ramlila grounds earlier this week was also thinly attended – only 1500 people participated -- mostly due to the biting cold and the absence of Anna himself, New Delhi, the seat of power, has shown that it will always be an extremely political city. Mumbai, on its part, has reaffirmed its status as India’s no-nonsense business capital where work truly is worship.

“One should not just go by the number at the venue. If one had seen the number of people who marched from Juhu beach to MMRDA grounds, he/she will not say that the turnout is low. We have been successful in creating awareness among the people,” Kiran Bedi told reporters in Delhi in a rather sorry attempt to save face. Team Anna had clearly misunderstood the nature of Mumbai and to make matters even more shambolic refused to fully accept the magnitude of their miscalculations.

Of course, plenty of people were pleased.

“So will team#Anna call all Mumbaikars corrupt unpatriotic thieves for their measured reaction to the tamasha is that just for politicians??” tweeted Omar Abdullah, Chief Minister of Jammu & Kashmir.

Media man Nikhal Wagle chose to believe Mumbai’s non-reaction was a result of the country’s unwillingness to accept fascism. “India will always oppose dictatorial n fascist ideas, whether from political class or team anna. Don’t want police raj or kejrival-bedi raj!” he tweeted. A bit surprising considering Wagle was one of Hazare’s cheerleaders on twitter in August.

The events in the Rajya Sabha last night also reaffirmed that parliament proceedings make for the best reality TV. Who needs a Sunny Leone when there’s so much drama and when the supremely articulate lawyer brigade -- Jaitley, Singhvi and Jethmalani etc – are around to make you dizzy with their magnificent sound and fury that eventually signified nothing. Bigg Boss pales in comparison.

Does this mean the anti-corruption campaign has gone straight into cold storage along with the Lokpal Bill? We’ll know soon enough. As far as Mumbai and Delhi go, though, it’s clear that never the twain shall meet.

*What You See Is What You Get

Pics courtesy and The Free Press Journal

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