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Why the lack of approval from Lutyens’ Delhi bothers Narendra Modi so much

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Mr Modi’s regret with Lutyens’ Delhi is perhaps that the BJP is still cast as the subaltern in this enclave.

The prime minister says that his regret has been his inability to win over “Lutyens’ Delhi”. The term referred originally to the government buildings and surrounding bungalow zone that the British built as their new Indian capital a century ago. Edwin Lutyens was one of the chief architects, but (fortunately) many of his ideas for the new capital were shot down. Lutyens’ initial ideas did not include the choice of red sandstone, traffic roundabouts, trees and bushes, and placing Rashtrapati Bhavan atop Raisina Hill. Most of the buildings in the new capital (including the bungalows) were actually designed by other architects, not Lutyens. But Lutyens’ Delhi it is, though he had an active dislike of most things Indian, including its people.

So who lives in this anti-Modi centre of town? More than 90 per cent of the original 1,000-odd bungalows spread over some 19 sq km are owned by the government, and house ministers, MPs, senior officials and the military brass. They could not be the source of Mr Modi’s regret. But Lutyens’ Delhi has been expanded in stages to 28 sq km so as to include the diplomatic enclave and tony residential areas like Golf Links. These are among the country’s most sought-after addresses. Chief ministers wangle Lutyens bungalows. Parliamentarians past their term are reluctant to leave. Businessmen from other cities acquire Lutyens residences. Retired government officers hang out in the Gymkhana Club. Yet, the area’s population would be under 300,000, less than 2 per cent of a city of 16 million. Why would any politician, let alone the prime minister, bother with them?

A picture of TN Ninan, chairman of Business Standard Private LimiThe real Lutyens Delhi, therefore, is not the architectural legacy or the residents. Rather, it is an idiom that captures the city's reality of lobbyists and lawyers, think-tank seminarists and event managers from the business

One could call it “the establishment”, except it is not certain that India has an “establishment” – a small, mostly self-selecting elite group that commands long-term authority. In Britain, the short form for this was Oxbridge, whose alumni ruled the country and ran London’s all-important financial centre irrespective of who was elected to office. Delhi’s educational elite, comprising the English-as-first-language alumni of half-a-dozen colleges and institutes, does not qualify in the same way, though many of them are in government in one way or the other and easily spotted in the city’s watering holes.

In Washington, they talk similarly of the Beltway, a large ring road. Those who live within the Beltway are often said to be politically divorced from the rest of the country. That’s not true of Delhi, which, with its mix of people from the north, south, east and west, tends to vote with the all-India swing: eg. with the BJP in 2014. But Lutyens’ Delhi is different. Its opinion-leaders debate liberalism and secularism, while voters worry about unviable farms, jobs and now stray cattle, none of which Lutyens’ Delhi-ites have to worry about. Yashwant Sinha, as finance minister, used to say that the questions he was asked in post-Budget interviews had nothing to do with the concerns of his voters in Hazaribagh.

The Modi government is not without its eminences from Lutyens’ Delhi, like Arun Jaitley and Hardeep Puri. But Mr Modi is right in believing that the dominant views in this enclave (a favourite Delhi word) are not aligned with his. So what exactly is the regret? That perhaps the BJP is still cast as the subaltern. It has managed to rewrite some text-books, squeeze or raid seditious NGOs, induct intellectual storm-troopers like Subramanian Swamy and S. Gurumurthy, get retired generals on its side, gain its share of voice on news TV, and take control of places like Jawaharlal Nehru University, but it does not yet constitute the establishment, or what passes for it. Will the subalterns eventually storm the Bastille? Ironically, it is the voter who may decide.

By Special Arrangement with Business Standard

Also read: India Inc is getting retired IAS, IFS officers as directors to get closer to Lutyens’ Delhi

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  1. Title of the article article seems to e press a desire or want , wishful thinking for self-promotion that they would wish to have an impact such as bothering to the current PM. Such a pitiful absurdity. These folks seem to gasp for survival of their egocentric attitudes, and know not how irrelevant have they been to the lived of people in India. But the, stupidity is a birth-right while it’s exercise is a choice. Keep it up, folks.

  2. Sri. Narendra Modi is least bothered about not being “accepted” by the Luteyan’s / Khan Market Delhi. Rather he will not acknowledge them. I will narrate a small personal experience. I was in a queue at a govt office. I am an average Indian, a senior citizen. I had been in relatively good positions in my working days. Quite used to 5 star culture while at work, in terms of accommodation, travel etc.,. But today I am a very ordinary Indian. I was waiting for my turn, which was imminent.
    A gentleman barged in, and overtook me at the queue, and hustled the staff at the counter. I tapped his shoulder to tell him that I take the priority in the queue before him. And stated ” You think that you’re ENTITLED to be serviced ahead of me. Because you belong to the ENTITLED CLASS. I have no issues but you have to seek my permission to be served ahead of me. I can wait.” He immediately blew his top. ” Do you know who am I…”
    Now come back to your narrative. The Luteyan’s / Khan Market gang, think the same way as my friend in the queue.
    To them Sri. Narendra Modi is a “village bum” and how dare he……… The gang can not see anything because of the blinding rage in them against Sri. Narendra Modi.
    I shall state just one fact: Our country has not borrowed a single $ in the last 5 years !! On the contrary we have discharged a huge loan we owed to Iran. The accumulated unserviced loan was the legacy of MMS/SG/RG coterie govt.
    The Luteyan’s / Khan Market gang will still dare the simple Prime Minister. Arrey yaar he is elected by the people of this country to be their PM . They care two hoots to the GANG.

  3. The current “establishment” has much to answer for its failures over the past 70 years. I would be happy to see its epitaph and a new establishment emerge.

  4. New Delhi – not in the league of Washington, more like a comparable economy – has its permanent government intersecting elite, which would also include a lot of fixers and arms dealers, despite claims to the contrary. Serving and retired mandarins, diplomats, military and intelligence officials would be part of it. So would the upper crust of the national media, a large chunk of it – undeservedly – persona non grata. 2. What is implied is a distance from an inbred group of privilege, a greater concern for the least privileged and the now anxiously sought and pursued poor, some of whom are marching determinedly on major cities to demand their due. Somehow, the narrative does not ring true. The party outspends everyone else on elections by several orders of magnitude. If there has been a reduction in corruption or the way the country is run for the most influential, the average citizen does not see any signs of it. Inequality in India is amongst the greatest in the world, and growing. 3. These rich vs poor binaries – which demonetisation was supposed to celebrate – do not add up to anything. Once in office, a government has to work with what might be called the Lutyens crowd, deliver worthwhile results, which has not happrat all. This constant refrain also reflects a deep aversion to excellence, a nurturing of mediocrity, comfort with ideological fellow travellers. An acknowledgment at the end of term that dreams could not be made to come true.

  5. Modi has his own concept/ideology to put things in right way.Some has to agree some may not.Luyten’s may be part of that.Giving due place to some architects of Morden India can’t be re writing of text-books.Infact PM is answerable to people who voted him to power but not to Luyten’s who have their own concern.Why crying for DeMo/GST ? Do we not need reforms.Pitfalls are always associated with.

  6. The Lutyens Modi was referring to was not only the liberal gang but,more importantly, the media personalities. The Lutyens cabal, so assiduously nurtured by the Congress, has been blatantly biased against Modi. These convenient Padma award winners are now proving their loyalty for past favours. This cabal might not be wholly residing in tony Lutyens but the moniker loosely defined another term, presstitutes. One could speculate about its meaning and relevance

  7. There are two types of elites: 1) cultured, but not very rich, and 2) not very cultured, but rich. This definition is true in general. In the context of Delhi, the first variety is called the Lutyens wallas, and the second variety wears fabric with their name woven into it IN GOLD — quite clearly, Modi ji himself.

    So, by sarcastically saying that he “does not belong to the Lutyens Delhi” Modi ji does not automatically belong to the “culturally and financially” proletariat classes of our country, which means our Common Man. He still remains an elite — by choice, and by a bent of mind.

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