ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Delhi’s ‘Regional’ Capitalism

The regional capitalism of Delhi described in this article is not a minor energy in the world today. It has abandoned some of its more provincial ways and also realised that the particular skills it possesses—the skills of infiltrating the political machine, the skills of using licit and illicit money, or legal and extralegal techniques— open up an immense zone of economic operation that is largely closed, say, to American corporations.

Nearly three years ago, I published a book called Capital: The Eruption of Delhi, which was a meditation on the changes wrought in the city of Delhi by the new economic forms which emerged after 1991. One of the arguments the book made was that the spirit of north Indian business is shaped by profound forces of local history, and that the capitalism that has emerged around the capital city is very much a local form.

What kind of forces am I talking about? The first and most obvious is partition, which was the foundational experience for the majority of those million or more people who came to settle in the new capital after August 1947. It was these people who would come to dominate the city’s economy in the ensuing decades, partly because of the extremity of what they had lived. The lessons of partition to those who had been turned upon by neighbours, lost property, livelihood and relatives, witnessed rape and murder on a vast scale and finally turned up in Delhi as refugees were: cherish property and security above everything else, scorn everything that is not tangible, never rely on others and these lessons made for a very successful business community. Their “Punjabi culture” was in many ways a post-traumatic culture, very much altered from the expansive culture of pre-1947 Punjab. The slaughter of Sikhs in 1984 only confirmed the city’s population in its paranoia, which after that was expressed in a more fervent fixation with physical walls and barriers, which is one reason Delhi is so extraordinarily a gated city. But paranoia and insecurity never hurt a businessperson. And as businesses established after 1947 are handed over to the third generation, the driving force often remains the same: Our historical wounds are infinite and can never be healed, but the endless accumulation of money and property will do a lot to help.

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Updated On : 29th Nov, 2017
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