But from where I stood one evening in the parliamentary constituency of Gurgaon, 40 miles south of New Delhi, the ambitious editorialists and smooth-tongued television pundits seemed oblivious to the deeper drama of this election. In nearby Dharuhera lies one of the auspicious sites of India's economic liberalization, and the fault line between the rural and the urban that is redefining Indian politics.
Rising real estate prices in Gurgaon, the corporate hub that enjoys the third-highest per-capita income in the country, sent speculators and industrialists flooding into the once-rural area of Dharuhera. The biggest local landowner transformed himself into a real estate speculator. Factories employed cheap labour from nearby villages, releasing their low-caste residents from the curse of feudal bondage. As we drove down the road from New Delhi, a shopping mall, with a prominent Benetton outlet, announced Dharuhera's imminent arrival in the world of high-end consumerism.
Yet that arrival seems forever postponed, as in Gurgaon itself, whose glittering hotels and shopping malls appear perennially under siege from dug-up roads, chaotic traffic and open drains. On closer inspection, the shopping mall, an air- conditioned haven of concrete and glass, turned out to have more security guards than customers. Dharuhera, where three-wheelers blaring pop music stood waiting to take laborers to their rural homes, still awaits basic infrastructure. A fine dust blew from the half-built and unlit road that the wheels of heavy vehicles had churned into corrugated ribbons. Stone slabs unevenly covered the open drains flowing before small grocery and vegetable shops. Mangy dogs burrowed into mounds of dried sewage.
If pre-liberalization India, poor and isolated, was paralyzed by the cruelties of class and caste, the new globalized India of billionaires has built its own oppressive hierarchies. Those who were already well-off, such as the region's feudal overlords, have benefited most from a freer market. On the other hand, a nearby motorcycle factory has faced labour unrest over the management's decision to hire contract workers at near-subsistence wages.
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