The saying ‘Dilli door ast’, Delhi is distant, is widely attributed to the Sufi sage, Hazrat Nizamuddin. Today, the Capital is becoming more and more door from the rest of the country.
Delhi has long been the pampered showcase city of India, its broad, tree-lined boulevards, its flower-bedecked parks, and its sprawling Lutyens’ bungalows in striking contrast with the cramped and squalid snarl of the country’s other urban spaces.
Now, with the Aam Aadmi Party’s recent ‘Deshbhakti Budget’ being unveiled, Delhi is set to become even more seductively alluring to those who abide beyond its charmed boundaries, a shimmering mirage for thirsting eyes.
Despite, and in defiance of, the crippling economic body blow delivered to the national economy by the coronavirus pandemic, the Delhi government has proposed a whopping Rs 69,000 crore budget for 2021-2022, a 6.5 per cent rise over that of the previous year.
What bagful of goodies will this windfall largesse buy? To celebrate 75 years of freedom from colonial rule, and inculcate the spirit of patriotism among the populace, 500 tricolours will be hoisted across the city.
To demonstrate that this is no mere shambolic exercise in chest-thumping deshbhakti, the budget has allocated 24 per cent to education and 16 per cent to health, a package which includes free Covid-19 vaccination for all.
The polluted Yamuna is to be fully cleaned in three years, and all the city’s residents will be assured of piped water supply in two years.
The budget has set its sights on boosting Delhi’s per capita income – which currently stands at Rs 3.5 lakh per year, which is more than three times the national average – to reach Singapore’s level of Rs 40 lakhs by 2047, by which time the city will be ready, able and willing to roll out the red carpet for the Olympic Games in 2048.
As an immediate cherry on a cake which might otherwise be dismissed by sceptics as pure pie in sky, and to prove that Ram rajya is truly at hand, all senior citizens of the city who wish to do so can avail of a free-of-cost junket to the upcoming temple in Ayodhya.
And as if all this budgetary bonanza were not enough, by next year the Capital is scheduled to get a spanking new Parliament building with a price tag of Rs 971 crore.
As Delhi becomes even more splendid, as reflected in the mirror of its own narcissism if not in reality, the invidious contrast between it and the encircling area of darkness that comprises much of the rest of the country grows all the more stark.
Bihar’s Muzaffarpur – wryly referred to as More-suffer-pur – is a typical case in point. The municipality of the city, which has a population of just under a million, was established in 1864 and today covers an area of 30 square kilometres.
Muzaffarpur’s sewer system dates back to 1896 and it now has a 137.2-kilometre network, out of which only seven per cent is covered. The rest of is comprised of open drains which exude a mephitic miasma of pestilence and are fertile breeding environs for swarms of mosquitoes.
Muzaffarpur is not just a fly-blown speck on the map of India. It is a major centre for trade and is renowned for its litchis. Tourists visit it to see the ruins of Vaishali where the Buddha gave his last sermon. In 2017, under the Smart City Mission, the city was allocated a budget of Rs 1,500 crore, which remains almost wholly intact.
On the Ease-of-Living Index which ranks 111 Indian cities, 49 with a population of a million-plus, and 62 with a population of under a million, Muzaffarpur comes in at the 62nd place. So while there are, officially, 61 cities more desirable to live in, there are 49 which are less liveable.
For the inhabitants of the many Muzaffarpurs of India, remote Dilli is an alluring dreamscape, a promised Singapore-on-the-Yamuna, a fabled Shangri-la.
To free the country from foreign rule the Indian National Army adopted the rousing mantra of ‘Dilli challo!’ Will a future army of a myriad Muzaffarpurs march towards the coveted Capital to liberate themselves from the inequitable discrimination imposed on them by a power perceived as being no less alien than that of perfidious Albion?
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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