The best test of the bluff and bluster of our Union government is a train trip from the New Delhi railway station.
The best test of the bluff and bluster of our Union government is a train trip from the New Delhi railway station. The railway station of the national capital, built by the British in the heart of Lutyens’ Delhi, in the soul of the ancient Indraprastha and a stone’s throw from the much-maligned Mughal minarets of Shahjahanabad, stands testimony to the lie that is the New India. There is just one old, smelly, inept India, inherited by the post-Independence opportunists who grabbed power by hook or by crook and handed it over to their children and grandchildren. And that is best at display in Paharganj. The BJP has been triumphant after five years of intensive campaigning, selling the story of a new resurgent nation. Modi achieved what so far only Nehru and his daughter could — win a majority for his party in two consecutive elections — by repeatedly claiming that we have stepped into a new era.
It is most normal for those who get dropped from their plush homes to the VIP tarmac of the airport to think that they have created a new nation. The reality lies elsewhere, at railway stations. Even when a train trip is faster, safer and cheaper, those who can afford it opt for road and air transport because our rail travel is almost inaccessibly dirty and difficult. And herein lies the story of real India, which remains unchanged.
For instance, the Shatabdi trains are the most efficient, fast and safe modes of transport between New Delhi and some North India cities. But to get into a train, one has to reach the railway station, which is nearly impossible. This may seem a hyperbole, but it is not. From the Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrim centre to the Paharganj station, a stretch of about 500 m, it takes 15 minutes to eternity. There is complete chaos created deliberately by rent-seeking cops and railway officials. Every cabbie or autorickshaw driver or streetside vendor who parks himself on the road does it by paying a share of his earnings to the local cops. No wonder, the Paharganj SHO is allegedly one of the most sought-after postings in the country — in Modi’s New India, too. Then, these people who block the road and refuse passengers entry into the station can offer only small change to the bent cops and railway babus. The real money is spun by touts, illegal tour operators, hotel owners, drug dealers and the rest.
The net result is a standstill at the station gate. For, if there is no chaos, there cannot be blatant corruption constructed by the complete collapse of the rule of law. That is the principle in which the first world rules the third. And it is the same principle we use to create a fourth world for the poorer within our own society. If there is order, discipline and transparency — in short, if there is rule of law — there cannot be a takeover by illegitimate centres of colonial or neo-colonial power structures through their local comprador proxies. This could be one reason why the first world hated strong charismatic leaders like Patrice Lumumba or Indira Gandhi. So, it is imperative for the first world exploiters of natural wealth, resources, manpower and the humongous savings of powerless people to create chaos. Such chaos is always controlled. We recreate it wherever we want an underbelly to flourish. There is a fascinating account of the underbelly of the New Delhi railway station by author-journalist Tarun Tejpal in his Story of My Assassins.
Such chaos can exist only if the creators have a safe entry and exit through this mayhem. And that mechanism is the State Entry Road. The Paharganj mess and the State Entry Road symbolise post-colonial India and how it is governed. The creators of chaos have to bypass the chaos altogether. No politician, bureaucrat, top cop, or railway official or their entitled children need to go to Paharganj to access the special saloons or important trains that reach platform No. 1 or 2. They have a special entrance altogether and just as the name suggests it is for the stately who make up the Indian State. Interestingly, as is most of the privilege system that controls the levers of power, the State Entry Road, too, is a colonial vestige. It was built by the British to facilitate the regal entry of the Viceroy to rule the new capital and named after the event to commemorate it. We, of course, still continue with the name and the practice. Unlike the Paharganj entrance, the State Entry Road is all about efficiency, cleanliness and discipline. But only the political and bureaucratic elite and those who pay them can make use of this entrance, which is double-locked and guarded round the clock.
Metaphorically, there are two ways to deal with this twin-entrance conundrum: either become a VIP or remain a rebel. So, idealists have to get down from their cars and walk on non-existent footpaths, duck fighting cabbies, crawl under cars and carts through filth to reach the platform while the rulers and the rich reach in their unruffled finery.
If Modi really wants to do away with queue-jumping VIPs and create a New India, he should start with the Augean stables of our public utilities; they have to be swept clean of touts and pimps and rent-seeking babus, cops and netas. Let him start at home with his railway station. Let there be no State Entry Road for VIPs, not even for the Railway Minister or the Chairman, Railway Board. Call it the Emergency Entrance and keep it open only for fire engines and ambulances.
Queue-jumping is our national malaise and pastime. If Modi wants to create a New India, he would have to make the Indian elite line up in queues. Well, it appears as impossible as a smooth entry into the Paharganj station.