It would have been more pertinent and meaningful if this piece had been written by a journalist friend. Actually, I had waited for some time hoping that one or another journalist friend would turn his attention to this subject and write about it. But unfortunately, journalists who would look into the changing face of Delhi metropolis and speak about the infinite images and social-political implications it carries, are few . And for these few, then, there is little space available in the current newspapers. At one time the journalist Sushil Kumar Singh who worked with ‘Jansatta’, wrote many interesting pieces on Delhi in the paper. One could also find a reflection of the image of Delhi in the political reporting of Manoj Mishra, again in ‘Jansatta’. Dwijendra Kalia, a socialist friend, who was a teacher at the DAV College (Evening) of Delhi University, wrote very informative articles on unique episodes and unknown people of Old Delhi in the little magazine ‘Naya Sangharsh’ in the late eighties. Professor Nirmala Jain wrote a series in ‘Hans’, a monthly Hindi literary magazine, delineating an vivid account of the journey of the city ranging over more than half a century (1940 to 2000). These essays are now published in the book form titled ‘Dilli Shahar Dar Shahar’. Needless to say that the outer and physical form of a city is the outcome of certain deep socio-political processes which develop and grow at its inner level.
One finds that today Delhi as a metropolitan city, is wrapped over with an amalgam of advertisements made through countless posters-hoardings and wall-writings. Governments, political parties, politicians, social-religious organizations, trade unions, and business companies selling consumer products are constantly pouring their advertisements over the face of Delhi. In the last three decades, the country’s capital Delhi has turned into a huge advertisement for corporate politics. And, in this form, it has spread still further throughout the country. Now even the villages and small towns are not outside the influence of Delhi. The entire country has become an arena of indiscriminate advertisements. Paper, cloth, plastic and ink, in huge quantities, are continually spent on these advertisements. There is an occasional discussion or two on the economics of the advertising industry, but it is the political science of this phenomenon that needs a serious consideration.
While traveling or walking in Delhi, I keep looking at all-pervasive posters-hoardings and wall-writings around and as a political worker, I try to understand the political implications and contents of this phenomenon. The story of Delhi’s heartstrings can be understood by studying the different shades of its posters-hoardings and wall-writings. Instead of commenting on each slot of advertisements plasterboard all over the metropolis, l would like to confine my observations here only to the posters and hoardings that go overboard congratulating ‘all brothers-sisters’ and ‘countrymen’ on religious occasions and religious festivals ranging from Shardiy Navratra to Deepawali to Chhath Parv.
It has been the practice in Delhi that the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would regularly put up posters-hoardings of greetings on various festivals. Occasionally, a few small posters-hoardings, placed by the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), could also be seen, which disappeared soon after the election victory of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). I noticed a special change especially during this year’s festival season. To my utmost surprise, the Congress and its leaders did not seem to be staking a claim in the battle of posters/hoardings, or trying to congratulate people on behalf of the political party and their leaders. This time the wars of congratulatory posters/hoardings waged largely between the BJP and Aam Aadmi Party. Whether it was a well thought out decision of the Congress or a mere coincidence, I do not know. The Congress is the mentor of the current corporate politics in the country and will continue to be its main player for a long time to come. But if it was a conscious decision made by the organizationally largest party of the country, it could be viewed as a positive, even thought-provoking, initiative. It might suggest the probability, that the Congress now considers the vulgar display of corporate politics to be bad, in taste and in morality.
The Aam Aadmi Party has introduced a new dimension to the war of congratulatory messages during religious festivals. So far, political parties and leaders had not been actively involved in the advertisements meant for organizing Bhagwat Katha, Ram Katha, Ramlila or other Puranic kathas (stories) in the metropolis. About 10-15 days ago l was rather stunned to see that Aam Aadmi Party had put posters and hoardings for a ‘Shrimad Bhagwat Katha Gyan Yagya’ to be held in East Delhi. The picture of its candidate for East Delhi Lok Sabha seat was seen flashing in the advertisement along with the photograph of the Kathavachak. That the Party’s theatrics was being inspired by the hope of a religious impact on the voters of this candidate, was mentioned in the press some months ago. In the last two-three decades, religious discourse has spread rapidly in Hindu society. The battle to grab this area through advertisement is a new strategy being intensified among political parties. Aam Aadmi Party has made a flying start in this direction.
The practice of organising Havan in the inaugurations and openings by the party’s political office may have been prevalent in the BJP. But the Aam Aadmi Party too had inaugurated the elections office of the East Delhi Lok Sabha constituency a few months ago similarly by performing a Havan. A Havan may have been performed even at other election office inaugurations of some more Lok Sabha constituencies in Delhi as well. One might recollect the Havan performed after Kejriwal was elected chief minister of Delhi. In Delhi, the advertisements congratulating Manasarovar Yatries on behalf of the other governments and political parties were not too many. But the Aam Aadmi Party had continuously put up huge hoardings of greetings for the Mansarovar Yatries at selected places in the metropolis. Two such hoardings were very clearly visible in front of Gujarati Samaj on the Raj Niwas Marg, and it was a constant sight for months when l travelled to the university.
In the flow of the festival season, the small posters of ‘Eid Mubarak’ in Urdu were pasted by Aam Aadmi Party only in Muslim areas. As if exchange of Eid greetings is not welcome and not allowed to the people of other faiths! I do not want to elaborate further by pointing out facts about the attitude of Aam Aadmi Party regarding the religious festivals of the Sikh community. The fact, in brief, is that the leaders of this party see the people of the country not as citizens but recognise them only through their religious identity. This they do openly. One can make a note of the posters in which AAP has questioned the Election Commission for deleating names of Muslims and Baniyas from the voter list.
I do not want to go into the debate whether the flooding of these ‘greetings’ advertisements during festive season by political parties has a relationship with the growing trend of communalism in the country. The reason for this is that it would, like on some earlier occasions, not be palatable to Kejriwal’s secular supporters who otherwise claim to be fighting against the fascism of RSS/BJP.
However, I would beg to discuss this phenomenon in relation to the context of the country’s democratic structure. I, with my friend ND Pancholi, were going to Jalandhar from Delhi on 21 December. The next day, on the occasion of the 95th birthday of Justice Rajindar Sachar, a seminar was organised by the Socialist Party on the subject ‘How to Save Constitutional Values and Institutions’. In our conversation there was a brief discussion about the impact of the religious advertisements on our democracy. I pointed out that advertisements, whatever category they fall in, take away the freedom of choice of a person as a citizen. The motive of these advertisements is to beguile and mislead the people. While incurring heavy wastage of public money, such advertisements are at the same time, also deeply changing the democratic spirit and process in favor of corporate politics. The greetings on religious festivals do not relate to religious belief at all. Small leaders or those who aspire to become leaders in future put up these congratulating posters-hoardings with an ulterior purpose. They, along with photographs of big leaders, publicise their own selves before the leaders and the public, so that they can find recognition and space in politics. The work that should be done through political hard work and struggle, is accomplished through advertising and that too with public money . Media in India, especially the electronic media, has become fully complicit to it. Therefore, new leaders do not rise out of a struggle, they come by way of clever advertising.
In such a situation, the hope of the establishing constitutional politics and replacing the current corporate politics, is an uphill, if not impossible task. Similarly, an analysis of other categories of advertisements designed by governments, political parties, social organizations, business companies etc., would lead to the conclusion that they all are connected with corporate politics.
The way in which the political and intellectual leadership of the country has blended silently in cooperation with corporate politics, it will not be long before the two become indistinguishable, affecting the fate of India. In not too far times, unless it is recognised and checked, this new fangled democracy of corporate politics, molded into the furnace of Delhi, will flourish in the country. The only snags in this democracy will be that while the three sisters (Manasi 8 years, Shikha 4 years, Paro 2 years) might die of disease and hunger, the country’s intellectuals/journalists/ artists/activists will keep shouting in a loud chorus – ‘The river of health and education is flowing in Delhi!’ There are constant calls for a strong leader and/or a military dictator from the inner core of this democracy, but the NGO masters will continue to beat the drum saying – ‘After Independence, people have learned to speak for the first time for their rights!’ They will declare with the martyrs’ voice – ‘Our primary concern is the people of the country, not party politics!’
The experience of neo-liberalism during the last three decades has made it amply clear that corporate politics is inseparable from communal politics. But the advocates of secularism in the country are not ready to accept it. They want to save secularism while running the country via corporate politics. Those who plead to save democracy visa-vi fascism, are not ready to even consider the fact that neither democracy nor secularism can be saved in this manner. What can be saved is their class-interest, and ultimately the same circle keeps rolling.
This is the story of Delhi, the capital city of lndia. It has metamorphosed into a little more than an advertisement of corporate politics. The other parts of the country can soon decide to follow a similar story. At such a point in time, it is possible for some to narrate a wrong text of the situation to the unsuspecting public. But for the truly cautious it is more important to differ, and to sound the wake up call.
Dr. Prem Singh, Dept. of Hindi, University of Delhi