Pavan Varma | ThePrint
Pavan Varma | ThePrint
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Unfortunately, the elite of Lutyens’ Delhi continue to live in cloistered enclaves. Their defining coordinates are, English, English and English.

India is changing. And I am not making any critical comment on the so-called Lutyens’ elite, which has people of great talent and eminence, who are well-intentioned, and who also do their homework and do so for the good of the country. I don’t want to make a damning indictment.

But essentially, what did happen after 1947? You and I need to introspect on it, as I have in my book called Becoming Indian: The Unfinished Revolution of Culture and Identity.

What has happened is, that in spite of a mass-based freedom movement, the real inheritors of power after 1947 were a small group of people who spoke English with the right fluency and the right accent, had the right social background, and who, in the initial decades, came to power and ruled the roost.

Frankly, as a result of democracy and the empowerment of the rest of India, they have become, in many ways, marooned islands. For some of these people, it’s a kind of rootless cosmopolitanism, which is adrift from our cultural roots, a knowledge of our history, tradition, folklore etc. I believe they’ll continue to be judged only by either their social background, or the accent in which they speak English. They are marooned now; there is another India.

When I gave the examination for the Indian Foreign Service (in 1976), you could only write it in English. Now, people can give the exam in any of the recognised Indian languages. That, in itself, is empowering.

This is not the first time that a leader like Narendra Modi has become the Prime Minister of this country. We have Mr Deve Gowda — he did not belong to the Lutyens’ elite, while Mr I.K. Gujral perhaps did. We had Mr Narasimha Rao. In a sense, Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee, whose poems I had the great privilege to translate on his request, also represented — in a far more credible and authentic manner — an idiom that was not of Lutyens’ Delhi, but of mainstream India. Where Hindi, or whatever language you speak among India’s great languages, is represented far more than the small elite whose primary defining coordinates are English, English and English.

((I think that each Prime Minister or any focus of power — and I have worked in both the President’s and the Prime Minister’s Office — will have the first circle of advisers who are the closest to that source of power. This happened in the ‘old’ Lutyens’ Delhi — you had a situation where there was a perception that Kashmiris seemed to be closer to power than others (the Indira Gandhi regime). And now, you may have a similar perception about officers from Gujarat, with whom the PM has worked earlier. It is to do with the nature of power: Wherever there is a strong focus of power, there will be people who are around that focus, who are closer to that person than somebody else. You will see this across the world, not in India alone.))

There was a small elite that took many of its entitlements for granted. Those entitlements are not only being questioned — you can see that geographically in Delhi, East Delhi has more money than New Delhi. West Delhi, South and south of South Delhi, the whole of Gurgaon… Where is Lutyens’ Delhi? There is a new class which has come up.

Earlier, there were clubs where only a few people went in. Now, even if you can’t get admission into those clubs, people have formed their own clubs, which are even posher sometimes.

I celebrate the fact that a country of this size and diversity has far more empowered people claiming to be part of the great upward mobility spiral of an evolving India. And why not?

What is unfortunate is the elite of Lutyens’ Delhi continue to live in cloistered frontiers or enclaves, with the same concerns, which are no longer valid for a new India. They are still relying largely on an old boys’ network of the past, on the manner in which they speak English, on very rudimentary knowledge of their own culture — not in a xenophobic way, but in terms of having some knowledge of what your cultural roots are.

—As told to Editor, National and Strategic Affairs Jyoti Malhotra. Watch the conversation here

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8 Comments Share Your Views


  1. Indira Gandhi did not take very long after establishing her own (Indira) Congress to snatch away from the Maharaja’s of princly-states of Indian subcontinent that agreed to accession on condition of the privy purse, the privy purse; but look, what privileges she ensured for her future off-springs. She had always been surrounded by the snobs that took care of her interest at the cost of the public-interest – they are still active and takes care of her descent.
    Let Narendra Mody continue, the common public will be benefitted.

  2. Hope you guys publish this one from me after ‘rejecting’ fairly innocuous letters sent on a variety of subjects. Developed a healthier respect for Pavan Varma for his plainspeak

  3. Winds of change i guess.

    Lutyen’s Delhi now seems poor and dilapidated, if one compares it to Gurgaon or Noida.

  4. The Lutyens mob that has set India back decades consists of characters like ManinShankar Aiyar who feel that as Babus who passed the Civil Service Exams they are entitled to exercise superiority over us humble, unwashed ordinary folk! Their skulduggery is laid bare when you look at the part played by ordinary Indians in the progress made in countries like Singapore or.UAE. Quantum leaps have been made by Non-Lutyens Indians in terms of economic power and the professions in the USA, Australia, UK and elsewhere. The Lutyens mob take pleasure in such matters as being able to delay plane departure times so that relatives can catch up. None of us can stand the buggers!

  5. Ashok, U r completely wrong..This English speaking Elitist People owe their existence & importance to Dynastic Nehruvian Socialistic philosophy, which has outlived its existence, the world over! Unfortunately these lazy bums ignored the writing on the wall &forgot to change according to times! Hardly anyone will sympathise with these people..The earlier these good for nothing filth dies, better it is for New India, which denotes True Rural India with local languages & Culture as the sole driving force for New India !

  6. Lutyens’ Delhi and the real India, presumably represented by men like Lalu Prasad, with tufts of hair sticking out of his ears, is a false binary. Not speaking English with the right accent did not stand in the way of Dhirubhai Ambani’s rise. Even at that time someone had posited it as brash Nariman Point vs genteel, old money Ballard Estate. The cleavage is deeper, more fundamental. Today, what some deride as Lootyens Delhi represents a fundamental commitment to a constitutional order that has served India well – although not well enough, but that has to do with economic, not political, orthodoxy – and a basic questioning of the bonds that have helped a very diverse country come much closer to a perfect union. If we must put faces to two different world views, it would be Karan Thapar, Raveesh Kumar standing by his side, and Rajat Sharma, with Sudhir Choudhury next to him. Take your pick.

    • For every Lalu, there is an Atal Bihari, for every “Luteyan Ashok” there is someone like me. The bottom line is, your guys are a fringe minority. India as a whole can deal with guys like Lalu easier than say, someone culturally alien like Sonia Gandhi..

      “Today, what some deride as Lootyens Delhi represents a fundamental commitment to a constitutional order”
      FALSE, they represent everything the constitution sets out to erase from India, let’s get a check note shall we?

      1) Caste Hegemony = Luteyans/Liberals/Seculars are a gang of rich Upper-Caste kids, not a shining beacon of upward mobility like Ambani.

      2) Rule of the Elite = Luteyans are a numerical minority who feel entitled to dictate the culture&beleifs billion+ Indians according to their own warped western sensibilities. Modi was democratically elected twice and yet you elites think you can override Democracy? Who are you people, our “Lords”? Democracy is for the people, not for the Luteyan elites!!

      3) English = This is NOT the language of Indians, Indians speak Tamil, Hindi, Marathi etc and yet Luteyans don’t care about non-English media&Culture. By remaining adamantly in English Bubble, Luteyans commited a self goal. The only reason why Hindi isn’t the Sole Official language is because Tamil&Bengali leaders, not because anyone cared about English speaking richie rich. Ideally, English should be phased out of India. Those IT jobs are drying up anyway….


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