For some months now, I have been thinking of someone whom I saw on television during the parliamentary election campaign. The place was Benaras and Modi’s candidature from the seat had just been declared. The television journalist was interviewing a group of clearly poor people, taking their reactions on this new, though expected development. This person, fairly drunk in his Modi-elixir – and perhaps also a bit literally drunk – swaggered as he answered, affirming his support for Modi: Modi bhi chaiwala hai, hum bhi chaiwala hain (Modi is also a tea-seller and I am also a tea-seller). His words reflected the success of the remarkable gamble – that of projecting the new poster boy of corporate capital as a humble tea-seller. It was clear how so many of the poor had bought into this campaign.
What reminded me of this person initially, was that very soon after the election results were out, even before the government was formed, ‘team Modi’ announced a series of measures for the development of Benaras, which included the building of 60 flyovers – ‘to ease traffic congestion’. Mainly meant for the benefit of smooth flow of motorized traffic (rikshas, cycles and pedestrians, after all, have little place in the economy of the flyover), this was the beginning of a plan that would transform this holy city. If the experience of building flyovers anywhere in India is any experience, this would additionally mean mass demolition of settlements of the poor, shops and even entire informal markets – including tea shops that have long been part of life of local communities.
Then the government took office. Within a couple of months, the plan for Varanasi’s upgradation started being drawn up more concretely. Not everything in the proposed subsequent plan (end July 2014) seemed objectionable -not the least the idea to work on a possible mono rail, improvement of the bus network, and a Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) like the one in Ahmedabad. Except that this would mean more and more dislocation of the poor and destruction of their livelihoods. We have seen this happen in city after city in India, including in Delhi. Continue reading ‘Make in India’ – Modi’s War on the Poor→
Today comes the surreal news that anyone painting their house or apartment white or sky blue in Kolkata can claim a waiver on property tax for a full year, a horror conjuring up a city that looks like a crumpled weave of Mother Teresa’s saree. Now, towns of Regency England and the Cornwall coast have uniform building and color restrictions to maintain historical continuity, but this idea is more in the perverse vein of babus suggesting that the burning ghats at Varanasi be “white-washed” for “freshness”.
Thankfully, another Humphrey shot that idea down, yet the decimation of the architectural integrity of the façade of these famous ghats continues apace, with sealed air-conditioned buildings overlooking the burning bodies at Manikaran. Bengal’s Chief Minister has been known to remark that the colours “promote happiness” and accordingly, the Trinamool Congress (TMC) Mayor has incentivised citizens to embrace the “theme colours of the city”. Coming on the heels of a general election, where the TMC won 34 seats out of 42, up from 19 in 2009, and compared to only 2 each for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (with 18% of the vote share, not to mention an almost win in the city), even discounting for dirty tricks appropriated by their cadres from the Left of old, the scorn must be tempered by what this result says about the contemporary citizen of this state and city. Continue reading Eta Kolkata (This is Kolkata): Kaveri Gill→
In January of this year, I had taken a friend to Mumbai. One of the places we went to was Lower Parel – I wanted to show him what I could of the Mills. You could still see the Mills then, if not in the same form. The same compounds now housed small galleries and boutiques. There were advertisements for a ‘mills culture tour’, sold as something in between a bar hop and an art gallery cruise. I knew big clubs had opened here, as had malls. Phoenix Mills was Mumbai’s version of Delhi’s DLF Emporio – all the major global brands were there. Even here, however, I remember laughing and pointing out to him that some of Bombay’s stubborn egalitarianism remained. Armani was next to Addidas. Rohit Bal next to a paper store. Unlike in Delhi where no non-hyper-elite brand could get near DLF Emporio, in Bombay, even Armani couldn’t buy space away from Adiddas.