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How Does Khan Market Feel About Its New-Found National Fame?

The BJP hates the "Khan Market Gang", but regulars there feel uncertain of what that is.

“Why are there balloons here today? What’s with all these balloons in Khan?” asked a well-dressed lady to what could one assume was her beau. He seemed none the wiser. Their friend, sipping from a Starbucks takeaway cup, comes to the rescue. “Arre, it’s because BJP won na!”.

Walking around, streams of orange and green balloons garlanding the upscale Khan Market is visible to all. The innocuous balloons, cheerily dancing in the light breeze, however, barely convey the bile the Bharatiya Janata Party and its leadership has for the fabled liberal anti-nationals who hobnob in this locale.

In his May 24 post-victory column for the Indian Express, Ram Madhav, the BJP’s national general secretary, wrote about how Modi’s significant mandate had rejected and decimation of the “Khan Market cacophony” of the “pseudo-secular/liberal cartels”, and that “Under Modi-II, the remnants of that cartel need to be discarded from the country’s academic, cultural and intellectual landscape.”

Aside from occasional honks in the parking area, the rustle of shopping, and a few of people bickering over things far removed from India’s politics, however, there is little cacophony that Madhav speaks of here. Even in a figurative sense, it was mostly silent today. A cafe that is usually the haunt of “wine-and-cheese” liberals was full of foreign tourists and chatty eaters, who, from what one could surmise while eavesdropping, were still disappointed about the Game of Thrones finale.

PM Modi, too, is no fan of Khan Market. In an interview with the Indian Express, he had said that the “Khan Market gang” was eager to defeat the BJP and that the same supposed gang created an image for a former supposedly false image for former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh.

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The Indian right-wing (and BJP leaders) took immediately to this branding, and in a matter of ten days, the Khan Market Gang found legitimacy. One has to wonder what this purported hive-mind look like. Abhinav Bamhi, a fourth generation member of the Bamhi family that owns Faqir Chand & Sons, one of the market’s most famous bookstores, suggests, “They wanted to say it’s a Congress market. But it’s not. It’s a mix, yaar — I mean everyone is coming here.”

The Bahmis are one of the last few original families from the area that was once a post-Partition refugee colony who still live there.

Abhinav added that BJP functionaries were as familiar a sight in the market as Congress members, and everyone in the political spectrum of Sonia Gandhi and Smriti Irani visited the market for books, food, coffee and whatnot. Abhinav also feels that the BJP balloons are only “adding to the drama”.

“Maybe they feel it’s that way because the people are elite,” he said. Salil Saxena*, a post-graduate student from Delhi University echoes that sentiment while browsing through books at Bahrisons Booksellers in the same market. “I mean sure not every Khan Market patron is the same, but maybe a lot of them are somewhat more liberal than your average BJP chap, right? Plus I’m sure you know this is a place where you’ll find n number of journalists here,” suggested Saxena, implying that the media has never been friendly towards the BJP regime. He added, however, that for the most part, he doesn’t think that people at Khan Market have anything to do with “anti-nationalism” — he has been a regular here for almost a decade.

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Perhaps unbeknownst to many of Khan Mark’s regular patrons, is also a demand for the market to be renamed. A week ago, a man had written to Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh, asking the market be called Valmiki Market. His reasoning — “The idea to get the name changed came from PM Modi’s interview, where he mentioned the name of the market and said his identity or image is not built by the Khan Market lobby. If he himself is saying this then who are we to judge?”

Though a historical fact, many do not know that Khan Market was named by early shopowners there, after Khan Abdul Jabbar Khan, a freedom fighter and later Pakistani politician; the elder brother of Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan or Frontier Gandhi. He had helped provide Indian refugees safe passage during the partition.

Renamings, even city streets have been a feature of the BJP regime. In 2015, the New Delhi Municipal Council renamed Aurangzeb Road in Lutyens’ Delhi has been renamed as Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Road after BJP’s Maheish Girri proposed the move to “correct the mistakes made in our history”. An auto-driver, Shankarji, however, said that name-changes don’t mean a thing — most people still call it Aurangzeb Road.

Meenakshi*, a journalist and a regular at Khan, calls it preposterous: “It’s not like I’ll stop calling it Khan Market from the second they change the name, is it?”

She too feels that the place has a bad rep with the BJP because of the number of media-persons who visit here. She adds, however, “Lekin abhi media bhi kahan Modi ki dushman hai?” — it’s not like the media is enemies with PM Modi.

Abhinav too adds that if the name were to change, the only thing he’d experience was some shock. He says that even though his family has connections with the BJP, a change of name is not something they would want.

As occasional green and orange balloons break away from the celebratory wreath, turning into playthings for a few kids, Meenakshi says, “Khan will always remain Khan. Then again, few things are certain under the BJP rule, aren’t they?”

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