A new book on Delhi’s post-Independence history looks at the warp and weft of the city’s political fabric and celebrates the social heroes the national capital has produced, writes Navtan Kumar.
Delhi has a glorious past. It was called “Dehli” till British rule took over the city. In fact, there was a settlement called “Indrapat” located inside Purana Quila till the British forcibly removed it once they created their own capital of New Delhi. The city has undergone considerable transformation in contemporary times—from a population of around four lakhs in 1947 to 180 lakhs 70 years later. This means that today’s Dilliwalah is fundamentally different from the one that existed at the time of Partition. The book Delhi Political 1947-2013, authored by senior journalist and chairperson of the Vivekananda School of Journalism and Mass Communication, Sidharth Mishra, along with Satpal and Khurram Raza, provides an interesting insight into post-Independence history of Delhi. Satpal has worked as Information Officer to three Chief Ministers of Delhi, while Khurram Raza has covered Delhi as a reporter for several media organisations.
The book is based on interviews with 40-odd political leaders who mattered, and contributed, to the politics of the national capital during the period under review. It is a work of oral history.
Oral history, or reminiscences of people recorded by trained researchers, has emerged as an important source of near-contemporary history. It can simply be used to recite a story of how a city like Delhi has changed. However, this book, according to the author, is more academic than journalistic.
There is a lot to explore in Delhi. The dominating hue in the population mosaic of the city has changed over a period of time from Nafees Dilliwala to brash Punjabi to street-smart Purvanchalis. The city has always served as an accommodating home for all those who needed shelter here to survive. It has been the long-standing “El Dorado” of North India.
The book is largely about Delhi’s politics and history.It is divided into six sections—concerning women, the old city, refugees, Dilli dehat, professionals and DUSU. A part of the part of the narrative is given to the unflinching women leaders of Delhi. Sushma Swaraj is one of them. She made her entry into Parliament in 1996 and later became Chief Minister of Delhi before returning to centre, as External Affairs Minister in the Narendra Modi government. There is also mention of Dr Kiran Walia, showcasing how the ever-smiling teacher and activist from Delhi University became the most powerful Cabinet Minister of Delhi. Aruna Asaf Ali is another woman who became an icon of the youth when she hoisted the Tricolour at Gowalia tank grounds, Bombay. She then served Delhi as its first citizen (mayor).
There are many interesting asides in this book. For example, there is a mention of “the mentor of Sheila Dikshit in Delhi politics”—late Dr Roshan Lal—who possessed a suave personality and was twice elected in the metropolitan council and later became the chairman of Delhi Tourism.
Dr Yoganand Shastri, another “benevolent gentleman”, is also featured here. He studied ancient subjects during his student years, taught at Delhi University and later brought his sophistication to Delhi politics.
Similarly, the book has a segment about one of the first Purvanchali leaders in Delhi, Mahabal Mishra’s life story from where he started to where he is now. His amazing journey was not possible without sheer perseverance, according to the author.
The book carries a chapter on Purani Dilli, an old hub of many political leaders who were involved in the freedom struggle. For long, Old Delhi was the centre of the city’s municipal authorities, with the legendary Town Hall serving as the seat of undivided Municipal Corporation of Delhi.
The author says that Delhi has always had to wring its way out of the cobwebs caused by multiplicity of authority, which is not a new feature, as the Arvind Kejriwal government would have us believe.
According to Mishra, the main political parties—Congress and BJP—were close rivals in the city all through 1947-2013. While the leaders from the two parties fought tough political battles, they also came together several times for the cause of the city. The history of our post-Independence era is not about political conflicts, of the kind being witnessed today, but more about reconciliations between competing forces.
“In those days politicians had the right to differ over ideologies but the debate was very polite and beautiful. The culture of mutual respect and diversity of views was commendable but is missing among current day politicians,” says Jai Prakash Agarwal, a Congress leader. According to Vijay Kumar Malhotra, a BJP leader, “Multi-level governance has always been there in the city and there has always existed a difference of opinion among different levels, but Delhi never came to a standstill as it has now.”
The book, however, stops at 2013, and does not take into account the contribution of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal. On this, the author has clarified: “People would agree with me that his is a new dispensation and it’s still early to judge him.”
Talking about his interest in Delhi politics, Mishra says it has its roots in his past. He worked as a reporter on the Delhi beat for nearly two decades.