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Khan Market, the new Lutyens’ Delhi

Author: Rajeev Varma
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: June 15, 2019
URL:      https://www.dailypioneer.com/2019/columnists/khan-market--the-new-lutyens----delhi.html

Will Khan Market respond to the voices asking for real change? Or will it be replaced by another popular name that is more of the same?

A dominant theme of post-election analysis has been how the inhabitants of Lutyens’ Delhi were out of touch with reality. This closed club has been under an increased and unprecedented scrutiny. Pundits suggest that the very ideology, which defines Lutyens’ Delhi, is now under threat. Perhaps more is at stake — its existence and even the very term. A smart piece of communication has quietly changed the narrative and the term ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ is being replaced by an easier-on-the-tongue label ‘Khan Market’.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s remarks are never casual — they are well-thought out and reasoned. Bringing ‘Khan Market’ into public consciousness was no exception, it was no stray comment. In one swoop, it demolished and supplanted ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ with ‘Khan Market’ as a symbol for entitlement, elitism and snobbery.

Khan market is the new Lutyens’ Delhi. What was the need for this? Remember the cliché: A rose by any other name…But in this case, re-naming was not just symbolic; it was essential. It sought to question its legitimacy and weaken the very idea of ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ by robbing it of its very identity. To make change happen, get to its core, management gurus urge. If you want to knock down a tree, cutting the branches wouldn’t suffice. You need to get to the roots.

What if you do not know the core or even identify the proverbial tree? That was at the heart of the problem for those knocking on Delhi’s doors. Beyond signifying power, access and control, ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ was a bit amorphous, something that couldn’t be touched or felt. It seemed abstract. So how can you fight something that’s a bit vague and doesn’t have a shape or form? You can’t even pronounce it. Is it, as the dictionary describes it, ‘LUT’ + ‘yuhnz’ or is it ‘Loot-yens’ (pun intended) or even the unprintable versions?

Not just a new strategy, even the rules of the game had to be changed as the ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ syndrome was too deep-rooted, too, entrenched. The Prime Minister’s interview with a national daily got the ball rolling. Spurred by social media, it snow-balled and struck a chord. Suddenly, there was an adversary whom you knew as also what it stood for. You could see the tree now, including its roots. Armed with this knowledge, you could get to work and bring it to its knees.

In a remarkable piece of ingenuity, we have a new lexicon in ‘Khan Market.’ You can pronounce it in Begusarai and understand what it stands for in the outskirts of Delhi’s villages. ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ is now democratised and the man on the street can understand it. He gets it.

Anybody who stands for entitlement, elitism and access will now belong to the new avatar — ‘Khan Market wallahs.’ It is the new symbolic edifice. Prime Minister Modi has called its residents the ‘Khan Market gang.’

So how did the term ‘Khan Market gang’ get the traction it did? Studio debates apart, the term has all the attributes of ‘stickiness.’ The Cambridge dictionary defines it as the quality of being sticky or staying attached to any surface that is touched. In social media parlance, it signifies the qualities of a website that encourages visitors to spend a long time on it. Importantly, it lends itself for easy identification.

Bottomline is that the ‘Khan Market’ moniker has ‘stuck’; it is here to stay. Unless Khan Market itself gets renamed! Increasingly, the debates in TV studios and op-eds will gravitate to the new term. It will become the new reality. The talk will be about ‘Khan Market’ and ‘Lutyens’ Delhi’ will only be a nostalgic footprint for those who walked the path.

An interesting and, perhaps, surprising aspect is how quickly many of Lutyens’ inhabitants are baring how the system worked and was milked by those who were connected or had the right accent. Are they giving up on their own? Perhaps, but it is more a sense of disquiet and unease and they want to quickly disassociate themselves of that tag. “It wasn’t us,” is the refrain.

Will things change? Will Khan Market give away completely and respond to the voices asking for real change? Or will it be replaced by another popular name or dialect or a  symbol that is more of the same? That’s a million dollar question. However, what’s true is that an aspirational voice has been unleashed. It will ask to be heard. It would be sad if it gets coopted into the new Khan Markets that may come up. But then, there’s always hope.

- (The writer is a communications specialist and a freelance writer; views are personal)
 
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