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At a kirana store in Janakpuri’s busy Possangipur market, a dozen people crane their necks to catch a glimpse of the proceedings on a 15 inch colour TV hoisted on top of a tall cabinet in the corner. A few meters to the right, a dozen more keenly follow the images on an identical set in a sweet shop. Across the road, half a dozen lungi-clad gentlemen listen to a staticky radio as they chomp on dosas at a roadside dosa stall.
Normally bustling with activity – middle-aged women haggling with roadside vendors over prices of vegetables, school girls scurrying around running errands for their Moms, shopkeepers engaging their customers in cheerful chit-chat, cyclists whistling past pedestrians, motorcyclists dodging everyone else as they race through the narrow streets – the market today was much quieter, for the participants of its vibrant eco-system had congregated around two dozen television sets in the market, much like the way Indians do during exciting cricket matches.
Only this isn’t a particularly exciting cricket match. It isn’t even a cricket match. The fast-moving images on the screens are those of the raucous debate in Rajya Sabha on FDI in retail
Over 250 pairs of eyes watch Rajya Sabha chairman Hamid Ansari as he prepares himself to announce the results of the vote.
“And UPA wins the vote with 123 votes in its favour and 109 against.”
Possangipur market roars in unison. It’s hard to believe that a few hundred people and not the entire West Delhi are making that racket. Younger men high five each other, as their sisters watch with broad smiles. Older men hug each other with teary eyes, as do their wives. The sweetshop owner goes bonkers. He walks around backslapping everyone near his shop and hands out bowls of deliciously hot gulab jamuns to any pair of hands he could lay his eyes on, profit margins be damned.
A few minutes later, a bunch of boys come riding on motorcycles carrying a drum and a couple of loudspeakers. Bollywood music soon begins to blare out of the loudspeakers, and citizens of the locality take to the streets, dancing like there’s no tomorrow.
Out of nowhere, a reporter and a cameraman materialize on the scene. Braving the flailing arms of the revellers they choose a vantage point just outside the densest section of the crowd.
“As you can see Nidhi, the scene here is absolutely crazy. The atmosphere is absolutely festive. Look at the celebrations! Look at the wholehearted support of ordinary folks for democratic lawmaking. Look at them sing and dance! This is democracy Nidhi. Yes, the debate in the parliament is a manifestation of Indian democracy, but real democracy can be found only on our streets. This is a proud moment for us!”
The reporter motions the cameraman towards a group of four young men dancing enthusiastically in a corner, and walks towards them. The moment the youngsters spot the media personnel, they crowd around the microphone and cheer and wave into the camera.
“Kaisa lag raha hai aapko aaj?” the reporter asks one of them.
“Bahaut acha lag raha hai!” they reply together exuberantly, a couple of them making the V sign at the camera.
The reporter looks into the camera and says, “As you can see Nidhi, the common man has been in favour of FDI all along.”
Turning back to his group, he asks, “Do you think the country is ready for this?”
“Ek dum ready Sir! First class!” responds the second chap. The reporter turns to the camera to flash a knowing smile before tilting his microphone towards the third guy.
“But do you think the local kirana store would be able to compete with the likes of organized retail players like Walmart?”
The guy stares back at the reporter blankly, and then at his friends each of whom shrugs, and then back at the reporter. “Hain?” he asks.
The reporter fluently moves to another chap.
“I mean, FDI will result in huge players like Walmart coming in, who can potentially cut out middle men such as these kirana stores and provide much better prices to consumers. What do you think about that?
The guys looks at the reporter like he’s raving mad.
“Boss, tumne pee rakha hai kya? Kya bak rahe ho?”
The reporter hesitates for a second, unsure for the first time that evening. Then, with far less confidence, he asks them tremulously, “You guys know what FDI means right?”
The four shake their heads and say in unison, “Nah!”
“Then why are you guys so happy?” he demands, exasperated.
“Pak gaye the yaar! Now that this shit is out of the way, they’ll finally show something interesting on News channels! Woohoo!”
The four break into an impromptu jig of ‘balle balle‘ and skip away from the journalists. The reporter slowly turns towards the camera, his expression indecipherable.
“Er… this is Rahul along with cameraman Vivek from Janakpuri. Back to you Nidhi.”