A lot can happen over coffee, the Congress party manifesto for the Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC) elections on February 21, assures its electorate. The party has laid out its blueprint for equality and happiness if voted to power — coffee shops and spaces for youths, students and couples, especially those from economically weaker sections of the society, to socialise and to date; party halls and other facilities for ladies who lunch, and state-of-the-art schools offering free education, among others. On cultural gatekeeping, Congress’s stance has often been wobbly — its recently proposed legislation in Kerala to bar the entry of women in Sabarimala is a case in point. But its manifesto in Vadodara sounds a refreshing note of change.
As many young couples across the country have discovered to their peril, love often comes at a great cost. The persecution of love and young lovers has been a happy hunting ground for political parties, for whom desire outside the home and before marriage is as sanskar-virodhi as it gets. The febrile righteousness of vigilantes looking to monitor others’ intimacies threatens to reduce open spaces in cities and towns to nana-nani parks — out of bounds as much for tentative lovers as for boisterous young children accidentally kicking their footballs into flower beds or a group of young women sitting together, their loud, unapologetic laughter ringing in the air. Public spaces such as cafes and restaurants offer respite, but only to those who can afford to buy an odd hour or two of privacy at a cost.
Which is why the Congress’s VMC manifesto appears to be a happy attempt at unshackling conservative imagination and to “smell the coffee”, as Vadodara’s party president Prashant Patel has challenged his political opponents to do. A city that makes spaces for all its residents, especially its youth and women, is a city of possibilities, in tune with the changing ambitions and needs of its residents. Imagine then the potential it can fulfil, if other necessary opportunities — of higher education, childcare facilities and vocational training — could also be made available.