Located amid the bungalows and the apartments for bureaucrats, lawmakers and diplomats, Khan Market attracts a hip crowd and is frequented by the city's creme. With a plethora of retail outlets, restaurants and bars of international brands, the upscale market has become synonymous with the English speaking elite clientele for many. Splurging on foreign food and expensive drinks, it is here that they discuss the country's past, present and future, much to the scorn of the saffron brigade.In the last leg of his campaign for the Lok Sabha elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi made a powerful statement by saying that his image has not been created by the Khan Market gang or the Lutyens' Delhi... But his 45 years of toil and nobody can dismantle it. Targeting the Opposition, he repeated the jibe six times during an interview with a newspaper.The statement was deemed to have far-reaching effect. Not only did it reaffirm his 'kaamdaar' image, it also positioned him as an outsider to the elite circles of New Delhi, whose consensus was considered to be paramount to get elected to the highest office in the country. It also erupted into a full-blown political controversy when Congress President Rahul Gandhi and party General Secretary Priyanka Gandhi responded by saying that the Prime Minister was fighting the election based on hatred. However, the patrons as well as the shopkeepers of Khan Market feel that Modi's dig was not aimed at them, but at a small section of people who claimed to be the power brokers in the corridors of eminence. "Our market is a free place and is open to all," said Mamta Bamhi, proprietor of one of the oldest bookstores in the market, Faqir Chand and Sons. She is one of the four original owners of the store, who has her residence above the shop while the others have moved to other locations. Sanjiv Mehra, President of the Khan Market Traders Association, nods in agreement. "Prime Minister Modi cannot make a comment out of the blue. There are many who frequent here and indulge in salacious gossips and endless assertions about their might in the corridors of power.
The Prime Minister must have heard about it and reacted," he said. However, everyone in the market opposed the renaming of the place to Valmiki Market, saying that it would amount to unnecessarily stretching things too far. "Changing the name of the market does not make any sense. Khan Market has a huge legacy and is recognised world over for its name. Changing the name would be tantamount to robbing the market of its character. We strictly oppose any such move," said Ashu Tandon, President of the Khan Market Welfare Association.The high-end Khan Market of today was originally built to house refugees from Pakistan. The market's history dates back to 1950 when the then government allotted spaces to the people who came to India from Peshawar after the Partition. "The government charged Rs 6,500 for the allotment of each shop. Initially, the ground floor was meant for commercial use and the first floor for residential purposes. The initial shops included grocery, draping and tailoring and sweet shops such as Bengal Sweets which served food items as well," Mehra said.He added that the market's appearance started to change in the '70s when the second and third generation of the initial allottees joined the businesses. "With the turn of the millennium, company showrooms such as Raymonds, Barista etc. started pouring in the market," he said.Mehra added that commercial activities started in full swing on the first floor of the market from 2007, after the Delhi High Court's order in 2004. "This allowed an array of restaurants and pubs to throng the market to cash in on its prime location. This was also the time that people encashed on the sky rocketing retail prices and rented out their first floor residences for commercial activity by moving out to other locations," he said. As per the guidelines, commercial activity is now allowed on 2.5 floors with half a floor to be left out as open space. It would thus be an insult to the spirit of combined entrepreneurship shown by the displaced communities to relegate the market to the tag of being frequented by the haughty elite. "Rather than wasting our energy on changing the name of the market, we should focus on improving the services and other facilities for the customers," Tandon added.