I am compelled to write this piece after going through the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) elections and as someone who is quite engaged with city affairs. AS we all know the results have given a massive victory to the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) who was running the affairs of the 3 municipal bodies since last 10 years. How are the results to be comprehended? Experts from different fields have expressed their opinion which I believe is quite correct. Some have expressed the imminent fall of Aam Admi Parti (AAP), which swung to power just a few years ago and the absence of any ideology would eventually lead to such a situation. Others spoke and wrote about the strong organisational network of the Rashtriya Swamsewak Sangh (RSS) and the BJP. People like Yogender Yadav quite firmly expressed his opinion even a day before the results and quoted the campaign and sheer tactics of the BJP where it kept the campaign confined to ‘Modi’ and AAP fell in their trap by making it Modi vs Kejriwal and the ominous result.
Is there something more underlying that goes more inherent, deep in the social system and spaces that urbanization has created? I, living so far from Delhi and having little idea about the metropolis and how it responded think there may be little common in Shimla(the town to which I belong to) and the national capital but the unfolding of urbanization leads me to ponder a little bit over the way these results have come up. Very interestingly the people of Delhi have voted in the last few years. For Parliament a thumping majority for BJP, then followed the state assembly where the BJP was routed and the AAP was overwhelmed with 67 off 70, then AAP lost its security in a bye election and finally the three municipal corporation elections the BJP won massively defeating both the AAP and Congress .
Now as a practitioner who has been engaged with the process of urbanization and its unfolding I find a strong connect in between the form of development and its manifestation in the urban arena. The kind of urbanization being witnessed in India especially in the Metros is not just distress migration from the rural to the urban but overall the framework of governance is neo-liberal. Whereas, in ‘Crisis as Capitalist Opportunity’ : The new accumulation through public service commodification by Ursula Huws’ in the Socialist Register 2012 pp63 writes quite explicitly , “the considered ‘use value’ items in political economy has metamorphosised into ‘exchange value’ “. Now what does that mean? It means that utilities, services etc. that generally were considered to be a function of the ‘state’ per se was corporatized and commoditised. With services like health, water, sanitation, electricity, education etc. becoming areas of massive accumulation of wealth. This is what David Harvey writes about the primitive accumulation of wealth. And this accumulation is highly coercive and phenomenal. The UNCTAD world invest report , Geneva states that
Of the 100 largest TNCs by 2006 20% were into services, which earlier was just 7 % ( 1997). In UK in 2008 outsourced public services accounted for nearly 6% of GDP of UK which was increase of 126% for the same period as mentioned above. The situation is quite akin in our urban areas as well.
Similarly in the ‘Blue Gold’ a comment on the kind of urbanisation experienced it states, quote , “The new world order is highly concentrated with centralization of capital whereas the employment generated is not commensurate to that. For example Wal-Mart accounts for about 13% of the $2.53 trillion US retail market and 140 million Americans shop at Wal-Mart weekly more people than who voted for Hillary and Trump together but has just 1% of the workforce. The wealth of Wal-Mart was more than the bottom 30% Americans.” Unquote
Hence the dominant model of development of our times in the cities is akin where in the global market economy everything is for sale, even areas of life once considered sacred such as health and education, culture and heritage, genetic codes and seeds, and natural resources , including water and air .
One of the important element of survival which is so important is water. Fortune Magazine writes that water promises to be to the 21st century what oil was to the 20th century; the precious commodity that determines the wealth of nations” (The Blue Gold by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke). On water, it further writes that the prediction is not surprising. Since supplying water to people and industries around the world is already considered to be worth US $ 400 billion (2000). According to the Fortune’s own analysis the annual revenues of water industry amounts to approximately 40% of the oil sector, and it is already 1/3rd larger than the pharmaceutical industry.
It is this form of urbanization that fleeces and creates surplus and generates phenomenal wealth in the hands of a few. The informal sector in urban areas and especially in Delhi is massive where even basic legitimate rights guaranteed under the constitution are missing. The unorganised sector comprises 94% of the total work force in the urban areas. Further the demand for the services increases exponentially compounded with the incapacity of the formal structure may be elected or otherwise to deliver and thus handing over fully or partially these services to the private sector which further aggravates exploitation and creates conditions for the maximisation of profit from these services into the hands of the contractors, cartels etc.
It is in this background that a consciousness is created amongst the people in the urban areas to have a share in this surplus or as David Harvey writes demand for democratising the surplus which he very eloquently writes. quote ‘The right to city’‘by David Harvey : “greater democratic control over the production and use of the surplus. Since the urban process is a major channel of use, then the right to the city is constituted by establishing democratic control over the deployment of the surpluses through urbanization. To have a surplus product is not a bad thing: indeed, in many situations a surplus is crucial to adequate survival. Throughout capitalist history, some of the surplus value created has been taxed away by the state and in social democratic phases that proportion rose significantly putting much of the surplus under state control. The whole neoliberal project over the last thirty years has been oriented towards privatization of control over the surplus. Pp 13” unquote.
And it is this situation that creates a rebel character quite inherent in the urban spectrum. It is this rebellious character and nature that keeps on changing and manifesting invariably in the democratic process for ‘democratising the surplus’. The BJP was sharp enough to use the tactics and the contradiction in its favour by directing this rebel furore of the people against the AAP. Else how one can justify that the party (BJP) that did not sweep the roads for 10 years was able to sweep the rest out in the elections.
Tikender Singh Panwar