The Delhi Quake


The shocking defeat of three times winner Sheila Dixit, and that too at the hands of a political novice in Delhi assembly polls, seems to have sent shivers down the spines of Sonia Gandhi's election managers. The people of Delhi are against the Gandhians who stand for everything anti-Gandhi in ideology and politics. Panic has gripped the Congress camp because they are just five months away from the General Election of 2014.

Since Delhi became a State in 1993, it has been ruled for 5 years by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and for 15 years by Congress Party. The problems of the vast majority of people have multiplied over these 20 years. The most parasitic interests, including big business houses, land and real estate mafia, financial speculators, corrupt politicians and ministers, have enriched themselves at the people's expense.

The Government of Delhi deliberately misleads the people about the actual conditions of life in this capital city. Official reports try to present a rosy picture for the global audience. The truth is buried under confusing statistics and misleading statements.

The Human Development Report (HDR) 2013, states that out of 33.4 lakh households in Delhi, 31.8 lakh have houses to live in; and that 68% own the houses they live in. One has to probe further to discover that 11 lakh households live in single-room units and another 10 lakh in two-room units. Close to 4 lakh households, which is likely to be an underestimate, are reported to live in jhuggies or slums, in cramped and insanitary temporary shelters which cannot be called a house by any standard. There are more than 50,000 homeless children living on the streets. At the same time, there are 3.5 lakh houses which are lying vacant. They are kept locked by owners who are waiting for housing prices to rise even further.

Distribution of electricity was privatized by the Delhi Government in the name of providing the people with reliable supply at reasonable prices. Power supply has become only a little less unreliable while prices have skyrocketed. Privatization has provided huge profits in the hands of companies owned by the Tatas and Reliance.  People are paying more, both through individual bill payments and through annual subsidies handed out by the Delhi Government, all to enrich the biggest business houses.

They are now moving ahead with privatizing water supply, unmindful of the mass opposition expressed since 2005, and unmindful of the seriousness of the water shortage affecting the people. The Delhi HDR claims that 81% of houses in Delhi have piped water supply. This only means that 81% of houses in the authorized colonies have pipes. This does not include the "unauthorized" colonies and Jhuggi Jhopri clusters, where the bulk of the population lives and where there is no water supply except through tankers. According to Delhi Jal Board, 40% of total available water is lost due to "leakages". The groundwater level has fallen to 30 metres below the ground in South and South-West Delhi, as a result of unregulated drilling by private individuals and enterprises.

BJP pretends to be very concerned about the high price of electricity and lack of adequate drinking water. However, people cannot ignore the fact that it was the BJP-led Central Government, headed by Vajpayee, which created a separate Ministry of Disinvestment to step up the privatization program. Saying what the people like to hear, while doing strictly what a super-rich minority wants, is the hallmark of such parties that dominate the existing political process.

The rapid rise in consumer prices is an inevitable result of the neo-liberal policy reforms, which are aimed at converting public goods and services into sources of maximum private profit. Those who say electricity and water can be made available to all at affordable rates without halting and reversing privatization are making false promises. Those who claim that inflation can be contained without reversing the liberalization of foreign trade and currency policies are also covering up the truth. The rising share of imports among goods of mass consumption, along with the fall in the exchange rate from 45 to 65 Rupees per Dollar, is a major factor fuelling the soaring consumer prices. Scaling down of the Public Distribution System and rising share of private trade is another factor, which has increased hoarding and speculation.

Wage and salaried workers make up the majority of the population of Delhi. They have been hit hard by the soaring prices of dal and vegetables, fruits, milk, eggs, meat and other sources of nourishment for their families. The official Human Development Report 2013 admits that over half of all workers do not have any written contract and 80% have no social protection. Very few have assured regular cost-of-living adjustments. The HDR reports that minimum wages have been raised many times, but does not report that even the inadequate legal minimum wage is violated by many employers.

Workers who demand and fight for their rights are treated like criminals. False charges are foisted on them. The case of striking workers of Air India and the Maruti factory at Manesar are two recent examples in the national capital region.

The second most numerous class in Delhi consists of the self-employed including small shopkeepers, owners of small-scale workshops and other individual enterprises including vegetable and fruit vendors. While the numbers of such individual enterprises have multiplied enormously over time, the majority of them lack adequate space and facilities to operate legally. They are subject to constant harassment and extortion by numerous arms of the corrupt authority.

The police and paramilitary forces defend those in positions of power, however criminal and corrupt they may be. On the other hand, thousands of innocent persons are in jail under suspicion of being terrorists and maoists. Hundreds of workers of Maruti are still in jail or in hiding, for the "crime" of wanting to form their own union committed to defend their rights.

The Human Development Report says that the recorded "crime rate" in Delhi has declined between 2004 and 2012. It does not mention the fact that the majority of crimes in this city still go unreported. This is primarily because of people's aversion to having to deal with the police. People also want to avoid the possibility of threats and harassment by politicians who are invariably connected with every criminal gang.

The insecurity facing women in Delhi is notorious. It has become a matter of much debate since the gang-rape in December 2012. Women are under constant threat of rape and harassment, on the streets, in the buses and everywhere they go. Women are terrorized to stay within the four walls of their home. Only 11% of women participate in work outside their homes, which is 40% less than the average rate among urban women in the country.

The vast majority of people have no guarantee for any basic right. At the other end, a privileged few get anything they want because they have money power or some special "approach". Parties that rule in the name of the people get away with any crime, including mass murder, as was organised in November 1984.

The past 20 years have witnessed a rapid rise in the degree of criminalization of politics, of state terrorism and communal violence.

Central and state government spend on "security forces" in Delhi only for the protection of the ruling elite. The vast majority of people feel highly insecure. When they protest against injustice, they are confronted with repression by the security forces, as was seen during the protests immediately following the gang rape in December 2012.

Recent years have witnessed more and more people coming out on the streets of Delhi in mass protests and demonstrations. People are fed up with the private loot of public wealth that is going on, with the connivance of the senior-most politicians and bureaucrats, who are hand in glove with the big business leaders of India Incorported.

The times are calling for a thoroughgoing reform of the party dominated political system and process called representative democracy.

Vol. 46, No. 26, Jan 5 -11, 2014

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