London is a very special place. As a city, it is splendid, and historical, and continues to be the financial hub of the modern world, though it is no more the epicenter of global order. Indians have been living in London, and most of the modern thinkers have studied in the great universities of Cambridge and Oxford. I have been to London three times, twice in the late 1990s and then in 2016. Having been to other great world cities like New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Hong Kong, Beijing, and so on, I have no doubt of putting London at the top.
Why should I say that? Before answering that let me put up what makes a city great. Connectivity, tolerance, and diversity make a city great. That is why with all its problems, Kolkata remains the greatest Indian city and not Mumbai or Delhi or Chennai. Bengaluru, Hyderabad, and Pune are glorified contentment towns and have never been cities.
Once in 2001, I was sitting with my Chinese host in Beijing, who proudly called Beijing the best city on earth. When I sought the logic behind his ranking, he wisely said that a barber, bakery, school, doctor, and tailor must always be within walking distance for everyone, which is there in Beijing, and nowhere else. He had a point, but Beijing has since changed, and London remains that way even now.
Accounting for factors including airport connectivity, the number of parks, the concentration of restaurants and nightlife spots, as well as an analysis of educational attainment and GDP, London scores highly. Its abundance of theatres and museums is the hallmark of a refined culture. Which great artist of the world has not performed at Albert’s Hall, including our own Lata Mangeshkar? Canary Wharf remains the heart of international finance. Plus, the opening of the new Elizabeth Line has given London’s transport network, already efficient, another jewel in its crown.
It was a great joy to see Mr Tarun Ghulati coming to my house. A handsome man with a baritone voice and clear eyes behind which his pious soul can be felt, he came with a common friend Ravi Tangirala, who heads the American insurance major MassMutual in India and himself has strong ties with London. Soon, I came to know that Mr Ghulati had made up his mind to contest the 2024 Mayoral elections for London. Wow! I will perhaps never go to London again and see no apparent reason for the joy that I felt when I heard this. But, I was truly happy.
Being an established biographer by now, I tend to see every life as a story, where no one else but the storyteller himself is the hero. Mr Ghulati was born in Delhi in a family of educated people and brought up in the aristocratic society of Lutyens’ Delhi. His father, Mr S.P. Ghulati held a high position in the government. Mr Ghulati took up a career in investment banking and working for Citibank and HSBC landed in London in 2002. Now a British citizen, he lives there, no longer feels like an outsider, and has a zeal to set things right in his city, that is London.
Indians have been an integral part of London society. There is no major Indian rich, who does not own a property in London. The real education seekers still go to study in British universities, and the National Health Service is still considered a benchmark of healthcare delivery to people in India. All stars amongst Indian doctors are members of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons. And if you can walk around in any premier Indian hospital, you can read FRCP, and FRCS written amongst the qualification on the nameplates outside their cabins.
So, which party would he be contesting from – Labour or Conservatives – I asked Mr Ghulati. He surprised me by saying that he would be contesting as an independent candidate. Reading my surprise quickly, he sharply lit up to give me a short political lesson. There is big confusion among the young Londoners about what liberal might mean in English and what it might mean in French. And who could be still called a conservative anyway? It is not very uncommon for youngsters to ask if a political opinion is coming from the left, right, or somewhere in between the two poles. And when do we call a stand as the center?
In modern-day London, where people of every nationality in the world live as bonafide citizens, there is no clear political identity. And Mr Ghulati sees this confusion not as a crisis but as an opportunity. What London needs is a good civic system, which may be Liberal or Conservative, that is not the issue, but it must be efficient and must deliver. And above all, it must be humane. The streets are crowded with the poor and the homeless. These are not migrants. These are locals, victimized by the silos thinking of political rivals, which ends up excluding them.
Finding it eventually impossible to carve out an identity that was distinct from that of the two rival thought streams, Mr Ghulati has decided to contest as an independent. And precisely what does he mean by an independent? Politics the world over stands polarized. People are living in ideological silos. But when it comes to business, what is convenient and popular is done by all leaders. Mr Ghulati can either contest the election as an independent or not try. But, he has decided to try.
The duties of the mayor of London include planning, housing, transportation, economic development, policing, and the arts and culture as well as the environment. It is a hell of a lot of work with a budget of around £21 billion per year. The incumbent mayor Mr Sadiq Khan announced in January 2022 that he would seek election to a third term as the mayor of London. Ms. Susan Hall will be the Conservative candidate. There are many other aspirants and Mr Ghulati is aware that he will be seen as a “Me too”.
Awareness is the biggest power of a human and the foundation stone of any society. Those people who are aware of the purpose of their lives eventually succeed, overcoming all disadvantages and circumventing all hurdles no matter how insurmountable they must appear in the beginning. So, when I had seen off Mr Ghulati, I felt as if I was seeing off the new mayor of London. It does not matter whether he gets elected; what matters is that he feels for the city he lives in and the people who are short-changed by the politics of vested interests. Had I been living in London, I would have gone out and voted for him for sure!
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