On Monday, for the second day in a row, New Delhi bore the look of a city besieged. The centre of the city—the so-called Lutyens zone area—has been practically declared out of bounds for protesting citizens. Metro stations have been shut down arbitrarily and traffic diversions—to keep the so-called important areas clear—have been effected with a gusto not visible in any other domain of governance. All this has been done in the name of maintaining order in the capital.
New Delhi has witnessed spontaneous protests in the past two-three days by students and young people. These have been in response to the utter incompetence and callousness of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government—and its adjunct, the Delhi government—in arresting the deteriorating crime situation. But what has fuelled anger and further protests is the manner in which the situation arising from the protests has been handled. For one, both the state and the Union governments have been more concerned about the safety and comfort of its ministers and leaders than about calming tensions on the ground. Attempts to end the protests have acquired an iron-fisted dimension.
All this makes for some interesting observations on contemporary India. The rape of the young medical student in the capital was just a trigger for a wider disaffection that has gripped India, especially the youth. It is, of course, difficult to find the precise reasons for these frustrations. It may be stretching the point to claim that economic insecurities of an increasingly educated young population lie behind the outburst. But equally, that can’t be ruled out too. The government’s attitude, framing the problem in an “us versus them” fashion while persisting with fantasies of a bygone age, has created a feedback loop. It’s best responses fuelled further anger for the simple reason that it is so out of sync with present reality.
The guarding of the Lutyens zone reflects a different phenomenon. In Anarchy, State and Utopia, philosopher Robert Nozick built a case for a minimal state. His argument centred on the state as an ultimate protective association for a group of people living in a particular area. That is how any state should be—the final protector of the basic rights, life and liberty of the people under its care. What is being seen in New Delhi is the state as a narrow protection racket: just for the powerful in a small part of the capital. The “rest” don’t matter.
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