Wednesday, February 10, 2016

DESTINATIONS :: PENCH TIGER RESERVE (2015(

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Mural depicting Mowgli at the entrance of Kipling's Court
On way to Kolkata from Nagpur we took in the Pench Tiger Reserve in December last. Made famous by Rudyard Kipling who used the jungles of Pench plumb in the heart of India and now in the two states of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra as the locale for his widely read “The Jungle Book”, the Pench Reserve draws nature lovers like a magnet. Though I was once posted at Nagpur in the late 1970s and did a two year tenure there it never occurred to us to visit these jungles only a hundred-odd kilometres away. Perhaps, eco-tourism was yet to take a firmer root forty years ago. Besides, there
The road we took for the forest
was hardly any disposable income available with us then for such luxuries. Salaries were very low and pleasure jaunts were mostly out of our reckoning.

There are, in fact, two tiger reserves by the same name - one that we were booked into and the other of Maharshtra. The same jungles have been (politically) divided into two separate entities for reasons that are certainly not conservational. This division is seldom observed by the wildlife of the divided forests. They go back and forth feely whenever they feel like or whenever man or nature forces them to do so.

Forests of Pench
A visit to a tiger reserve is of no consequence unless one undertakes a jeep or elephant-ride in the forests - a ride that goes by the name of "safari". I came across this word way back in the 1950s when the Nobel Prize-winning author Earnest Hemingway went to Africa on a hunt of animal heads as trophies and also produced books on the then not-so-well-known continent of Africa. I recall two books of his, viz. "The Green Hills of Africa" and "The Snows of Kilimanjaro" - the latter became immensely popular and was also made into an entertaining movie featuring iconic actors of the golden era of Hollywood – Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner and Susan
The owl we came across
Hayward. Though the "safari" word seems to have been derived from theUrdu/Hindi word "safar" meaning travel I came across several cautionary signs "Safiri Salama" (meaning, I presume, safe journey) on the road to Mombasa from Nairobi. Obviously, “safari” or “safari” is now well-entrenched in Swahili and English lexicon.

Safari for vast numbers of new-rich has only one objective - that of sighting tigers, more the better. If the
A waterhole
tiger proved to be elusive, as it was in our case, the whole trip would be considered a waste of time and money. For them tiger should be visible on demand. The forests, the majestic tall broad-leaved trees of teak, the beauty wrought by Nature by its exceptionally gifted hands do not seem to hold any meaning. They have heard only of tigers and they want it to present itself before them the moment they step into the midst of a clump of trees. They are not concerned about its role in our larger ecosystem or that of saving our pristine forests that are great carbon sinks
The busy spotted deer
helping in mitigation of warming of our planet.

So a large number of tourists who were roaming around the wilds of Pench that cold morning were disappointed as the tigers effected a “no-show”. I cannot hazard a guess how many jeeps had entered the core area of the forest after paying a hefty sum and braving that biting cold but I suppose there must have been at least two or three dozens. Out of all those dozens only one proved to be "lucky" as it came across the majestic beast who, it seems, was padding away on the jeep-track with utter disdain of those who followed him in their vehicle. We were the "unlucky" ones who could sight
A solitary sambhar
only a few spotted deer, large number of  rhesus monkeys, a few contemplating langoors, a barking deer, a brooding sambhar and an owl quietly  resting after its nightly exploits.

 Maybe we were unlucky, but I found the teak forests glorious, more so in the morning sun the slanting rays of which made them a trifle more resplendent. Then, of course, was the fantastic landscaping designed by none other than Nature herself, the play of sunshine on which made the scene so breathtaking yet somehow defied capture by our unsophisticated cameras.

I never knew that Suzuki made jeeps but the MP Tourism Corporation had just them for safaris. We were on a four-seater that was comfortable to sit but was
The curious one
necessarily open to the elements and the cold. Three hours in the cold in such an open Suzuki jeep on a roller-coaster ride over hills, dales and deep gullies made our aged lumbars painful and also made us ravenously hungry. We also felt a bit tired as we had to keep our eyes peeled to sight the slightest movement in the moving jungle panorama. There were only few quiet halts of expectations of the presence nearby of the king of the jungle that, unfortunately, proved to be in vain. There indeed were unusual movements on occasions - of monkeys sprinting and climbing the trees in a jiffy or spotted deer suddenly scrambling and making a dash away from something they appeared to fear - but we never knew what induced the movements. Could be a predator or its co-predator was on the prowl. Whatever the reason, these by themselves were genuine jungle activities we rarely come across in our urban surroundings and were immensely
Tiger footprints and stripes on Kipling Court's towel
enjoyable. 

Reports have since appeared of poaching of tigers in Pench. The Tiger Reserve has lost as many as four tigers in the last three months. Only one of them died a natural death, the rest of them were plain killings by humans. Perhaps, that is why tigers have become somewhat rare in MP’s part of Pench. Maybe, that is why they did not show up for us that day.


Tearing ourselves away from the beautiful jungles prompted by that feeling of hunger we trooped into Kipling's Court, the lodge we were booked into, where waiters were waiting for us with the most appetising fare of hot "poories" and "aloo ki sabzi", with omlettes as side dishes and “jalebies” for sweets. After a hearty breakfast
The Kipling Court cottages facing the jungle
egged on by a staff ever willing to feed the guests we retired to our very well-appointed rooms. That is what one must say about Kipling's Court. Its rooms are very comfortable - four each in double-storied cottages - situated in natural surroundings and its staff are outstanding and highly hospitable considering that they are serving in a public sector hostelry. The Madhya Pradesh Tourism ought to be proud of them. The motif of tiger is omnipresent in the rooms – wall-mountings, bed covers,
Products of the village put out to dry
towels and what have you.


The visit to Pench was rounded off with a visit to a village in the buffer zone known for its artifacts of clay made in the traditional way with a wheel powered by sheer muscles. Though located in a remote area the products churned out by its artisans find a ready market in Nagpur. Obviously, it is a well-off village as in front of virtually every house one found a motorbike parked. Clearly, the village has been lifted out of poverty.

*Photos are either by my wife, Bandana, or me

Friday, February 5, 2016

Bhopal Notes - 21 :: Unsmart moves for smart city

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Artist's impression of smart Bhubaneshwar
Bhopal figured last in the list of 20 cities picked up by the Central Government for upgrade as a smart city. The MP government had recommended the areas of Shivaji Nagar and Tulsi Nagar of Bhopal for building a smart city.  A very dependable newspaper reported that availability of land tipped the scale in its favour or otherwise it might not have figured in the list. Apparently, what was conveyed to the Centre was that these two localities have about 500 acres of land as required under the scheme for building the local smart city – a fact that has not been borne out by later developments.

The residents of these two areas protested soon after the decision of the Central Government was announced. It seems, the state government, on the recommendation of the Municipal Corporation, had conveyed to the Centre thinking that the low rise houses would be demolished and the vacated land would be made use of for building the smart city. It, unfortunately, saw only the land and not the houses in which people have been living for more than thirty years. Surprisingly, it never occurred to them that those who were already resident in their houses would need to be moved from their hearths and homes and provided alternative comparable  land/accommodation before the smart city could come up.

The protests are, naturally, gathering strength and some organizations have added their voices. The municipality’s counter is that largest number of people voted for Shivaji and Tulsi Nagar areas and hence that is what was recommended. No communication, apparently, was received by it against the proposal and now, since, the project has been approved it would be difficult to revise the proposal. If the municipality and the government take such a stiff stand it would be a human tragedy of pretty large scale. People of the areas may have voted in large numbers imagining benefits that would accrue to them from the smart city but they probably never imagined that it is they who would actually be pushed out of their houses to make way for it. They might have been asked to vote but were they ever told that in the event of selection of their localities they would have to vacate their houses and lands? Probably not. Had they been aware of this eventuality surely they would not have voted like they did.

Shattering their dreams, a population of a few thousand families – reported to be thirty-odd thousand – will have to be moved – but where? Nobody knows. So far nothing has been reported in the news papers about their rehabilitation and no piece of land seems to have been identified. Can a government send such a half-baked proposal to the Centre? I doubt it, but one can never tell. The proposal of building smart cities was rushed through because of the given deadline and numerous vital matters may not have been considered. The municipal corporation was most keen to get Bhopal selected by the Centre forgetting that its performance over the years has left an enormous lot to be desired and it just did not have the capability to run a smart city.

One can see a turmoil approaching as the resentment is building up. Both sides are keeping quiet but I am sure below the surface things surely are moving. There is, however, another very vital aspect which also could derail the project and that is regarding the city’s greenery. Reports have appeared of an estimated 30000 trees will have to be felled in the two localities to accommodate the smart city. These areas are perhaps one of the greenest ones in Bhopal and present a beautiful and soothing ambiance. To root out this greenery and uproot the residents of the area for what seems to be a mirage will be a double whammy for the people and their city.

Bhopal has always got the wrong end of the stick in so far protection of its tree cover is concerned. The Gammon’ CBD Project required felling more than a thousand trees. The undertaking given by Gammon India of planting as many trees in place of those which were eliminated from the site has not been honoured. Neither the municipality nor the government seems to have insisted on Gammon India to do the compensatory planting as promised.

Likewise, for the BRTS project again some 3000 to 5000 trees were felled. Some of them were massive, very old trees that provided roadside greenery and shady patches to all those who would walk on these roads as also rookeries for birds and other arboreal creatures. Now if one looks at the route one finds only harsh and stark metal of the road with nothing green in sight. No wonder the mercury around the New Market registers a temperature that is a degree or two more than in the rest of the city or even higher. Once the Gammon India project gets up-and-running as a full-fledged business district things are likely to become much worse.

Felling of 30,000 or more trees for the “smart city’ project will be a massive blow to the city’s equable micro-climate – or whatever is left of it. And this will be done, curiously, in these days of escalating global warming, the resultant climate change because of which is already upon us. But nothing better could be expected from the unconcerned officialdom of this state which neither is bothered about the environment nor about the people living in the city. If many large complexes are under construction on the out skirts of the town why the smart city couldn’t be accommodated likewise as a greenfield project? That would have caused minimum of adverse effect on the people of the city or its environment.

In fact, this is the basic mistake that the government and the municipality have made that of proposing what is essentially a “greenfield” project for location in an area which is already in use. They planned for conversion of Shivajinagar and Tulsinagar into a proverbial shiny new smart city with its modern infrastructure extensively using IT evacuating those who have developed deep roots in the area. They forgot that all this could be achieved where there are no constrains on availability of land or like the ones that have cropped up now.

A day or two earlier a report appeared about the planning that is being undertaken for smartening up the entire city. One does not know whether it was a deliberate leak to work as a sop for those who feel deprived. Actually speaking, it is exactly what is necessary. Instead of creating a new concrete jungle the smartening of the entire city should be attempted by retrofitting. The condition of the city is such that it needs to be lifted up from its boot straps. Without being divisive, this would prevent structural division of the city in two hierarchies - “Smart” and “Un-smart”, “modern” and “primitive” – and would satisfy the entire population of the city. What seems to be necessary is to go the way of Amsterdam where the city is being smartened up with a bottom-up approach. As many as 30-odd projects have commenced to ensure the city’s smart functioning. These include a “climate street” which aims to reduce the energy use of an entire shopping street with a new superfast fibreoptic network , installing smart metres to the electricity grid so that ships do not have to burn diesel in generators when berthed in the city’s port and suchlike.


Such innovative projects could be planned to make the entire city smart by retrofitting with use of special purpose vehicles. All areas of civic functions could be covered with the necessary inputs from experts for execution through special purpose vehicles for each project. Issues like introducing the concepts of energy efficiency, greening of public buildings, equitable water-supply to all, disposal of solid wastes and their conversion into energy and recycling of waste water, etc all could be handled and executed by special purpose vehicles. With judicious deadlines given to SPVs the city could get really smart in not too distant future.

*Photo from internet

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Congress allergic to truth

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The Indian National Congress High Command has sent a show-cause notice to the Mumbai Congress chief, Sanjay Nirupam, for publishing an unsigned article in the November 2015 issue of “Congress Darshan”, a mouthpiece of the Party in Mumbai, denigrating the first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and the Party’s current president, Sonia Gandhi. While the periodical said that Sonia Gandhi’s father, Stephano Maino was a fascist and that Sonia Gandhi became President of the Congress Party within 62 days after becoming one of its members, it went on to say that Nehru’s faulty Kashmir and China policies have tied down the country during the last sixty-odd years and their repercussions may hobble it for years to come.

As was rightly pointed out by reporters, the periodical did not reveal any secret that was not generally known. Sonia Gandhi became a member of the Congress Party only after its rank and file kept persuading her to lead the Party as most of them had lost faith in its senior members. She had refused to join the Party or to take part in politics after Rajiv Gandhi, her husband, was assassinated. Having witnessed two assassinations (including that of Mrs. Indira Gandhi in 1984) in the family she, apparently, had no stomach for politics. But the insistence of the party members, mostly ambitious sycophants, brought her round and she joined it after as many as eight years of Rajiv’s death.  Then the Party voted for her to be its President. They had felt at that time that without a member of the Gandhi family at the helm the party would go nowhere. The cult of the Gandhi family and its legions of sycophants is also legacy that Nehru bequeathed

 That her father, Stephano Maino, was a soldier in the army of fascist Benito Mussolini and was a prisoner of war in the then Soviet Union is also well known. Reports of his swearing allegiance to the fascist regime and then later promoting the Soviet line were, however, not quite well known. Before he joined the fascist army he reportedly was of modest means living in an Italian village. The Maino family is now surprisingly said to be worth $2 billion. That is saying quite a lot about the family and its extension to the Indian ruling family that was probably profitably used by the KGB. No wonder, the diaries of a Soviet sleuth Mitrokhin made mention of KGB’s penetration in the PM’s House.

What was written in “Congress Darshan” on Nehru for which eventually the editor was sacked is also largely true. It is true that Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel differed with Nehru in respect of the latter’s Kashmir and Tibet policies. While Nehru was a romantic living in his own make-believe world where everything was hunky dory and where there were no enemies, only friends and well-wishers, Sardar was a realist and practical and knew how nations play the power games. Nehru deluded himself by believing that India had no enemies even as Pakistan-backed raiders were committing aggression in Jammu & Kashmir.

While Nehru did not protest against invasion of Tibet by China, Patel saw clearly what was coming. His letter of 17th November 1950 to Nehru is an exceptionally clear-headed exposition of external and internal implications of Chinese occupation of Tibet. As China was exterminating a buffer state, bringing the unfriendly neighbour right to the Himalayas Nehru, taking no note of Patel’s letter, was still singing of “Panchsheel” and “Hindi Chini bhai bhai”. Only the humiliating 1962 defeat knocked him back into senses. But it was too late – the animus between the two countries has continued.

Patel, on the other hand, successfully integrated 562 princely states in the Indian Union by August 1947. These were rendered free after the lapse of Paramountcy – the supremacy of the British Crown over them. Keen on saving India from balkanization, he had announced that he did not recognize the right of any state to remain independent and in isolation within India. With strong-arm methods he broke the separatist princes’ union and by 15th August 1947 all princely states except Junagarh, Hyderabad and Kashmir had joined the Indian Union.

As for Junagadh, a Hindu majority state wth a Muslim Nawab, Patel saw to it that conditions were created for a forcible takeover despite the fact the Nawab had opted for Pakistan. Hyderabad was, however, a tough nut – a state with Hindu majority surrounded by India from all sides. Its Nizam tried all the options, from remaining independent to opting for Pakistan or remaining as a dominion under the British Commonwealth. All this was not so difficult to fathom as was the opposition from within the Indian Government. While Patel wanted to send in the Army, Nehru would have none of it. There were reportedly sharp exchanges between Nehru and Patel in a cabinet meeting over sending the Army during which Nehru is said to have called Patel a “total communalist”. Soon, however, a report of rape of a British woman in Hyderabad provoked him to take a “U” turn and the Indian Army, made to wait battle-ready in the wings by Patel, was asked to march into Nizam’s Hyderabad.

Like all other princely states Kashmir surprisingly was not being handled by Patel who used to be the Home Minister. Nehru, though was the Foreign Minister apart from being the Prime Minister, for no rhyme or reason kept “Kashmir” in his portfolio - and made a thorough mess of it. Firstly he seems to have been instrumental in having the Kashmir accession delayed because of his close friend Sheik Abdullah whom he wanted to be freed from the prison term he was undergoing. (Ironically, he had to put Sheikh under arrest in 1953.) Thus on 26th October 1947 when the instrument of accession was being signed Pakistan Army-backed raiders were already in Kashmir. In the ensuing war Nehru prevented the Indian Army to push the raiders back to where they came from. Instead he, ill-advisedly, took the matter to United Nations – and that too not under Chapter VII under which the UN could take armed action against the aggressors but under Chapter VI for resolution of a dispute. Kashmir was a case of Pakistani aggression, not a dispute about determination of sovereignty over the state. The so-called “dispute” has been festering all these years like a cancer - and there is no end in sight. As if all this was not enough, Nehru later put another albatross round the country’s neck by forcing Baba Saheb Ambedkar, despite his vehement protests, to include Article 370 in the Constitution awarding a special status to Kashmir.

Curiously, the Congress Party is unable to accept the truths about the mistakes made by Nehru. Despite all his good work in many other spheres, Nehru was a failure in dealing with Pakistan and China. But for him we would have been free of many of the serious seemingly perennial issues that have been plaguing us in respect of our relations with these two countries. His many other failings and foibles, including dislike for certain contemporaries during the freedom struggle, are narrated in detail by RNP Singh in his intensively researched book “Nehru, the troubled legacy”.

 On hindsight, Sardar Patel with much greater administrative acumen may well have made a better and far more effective prime minister. But all hat is among the numerous “ifs” of our post-independence history.


Friday, January 29, 2016

DESTINATIONS :: JAIPUR (2015)

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Last October my wife and I visited Jaipur after a long hiatus - of around 35 years and what we saw was highly agreeable. It has grown quite a lot since we were here more than thirty five years ago and it is still growing. The "Resurgent Rajasthan" campaign is giving it the impetus, it is now a city of 40 lakhs (4 million), double the number of Bhopal where we live. The new areas are beautifully laid out. “Vaishali” is one such new development where the roads are wide and commercial buildings both, massive and good looking. It has now a new airport - small but functional. An agreement seems to have been negotiated with Thai Airways for ground management – a concept that I have not seen implemented anywhere in India so far.

Having seen earlier most of the touristy sites this time we just wanted to take in the
Jal Mahal
ambience – the Rajasthani colourful environment, cuisine and so on. We were there before Dussehra which is, perhaps, a huge festival in Rajasthan. The traditional market was being repainted in pink and its gates were being beautified by ornate murals in white over a pink base depicting religious and historical themes.. At several places effigies of ten-headed Rawan were on sale but the sellers occupied spaces away from edges of the roads. Jaipur’s iconic heritage monument, the Hawa Mahal, was resplendent in its beautiful freshly painted pink visage. None can avoid this beautiful monument as it is plumb in the traditional market place.

Rajasthani handcraft
As we came out of the airport we hit a top class road, clean and uncluttered with shacks and gumties as we find in Bhopal. Roads all over Jaipur were found to be of high quality unlike in Bhopal where care is taken of only such roads that are used by VIPs or the ones that are kind of showpieces. I do not know about the quality of the roads inside the colonies but I am sure it is better than what we have in Bhopal. Sanitation is also of a high order and the local municipal corporation seems to have taken the "Swachha Bharat" (Clean India) campaign seriously.

The best aspect about the city is clean and hindrance-free traffic. Quite obviously,  the
Tableau of statuary on a central verge
traffic management is of a very high order. Two-wheeler riders wear helmets and even the pillion rider does so. We did not see any two-wheeler carrying more than two riders.  No one takes the wrong carriageway to save on time and fuel or no one overtakes from the wrong side. All this discipline is because of strict oversight by the traffic police whose members are generally present in strength at important junctions. Two-wheeler riders and auto rickshaw drivers, the most frequent offenders of traffic rules, are afraid of
The massive cannon of 18th Century
deviating from rules as the police are there to ensure strict compliance. They are not ineffective or corrupt as in Bhopal who overlook traffic violations in exchange of a few rupees. Besides, the media seem to be keeping a hawk-like watch over the policemen. Any adverse report in the media is monitored by the Chief Minister's office and apparently inquiries are held and action is taken swiftly. As a consequence Policemen seemed to be pretty effective in a quiet and efficient manner ensuring, inter alia, all heads on two wheelers are helmetted, no one drives while talking on cell phone, no one drives on high beam and no one takes the wrong carriageway - including the autos and two-wheeler riders who
Arms of a bygone era in Jayagarh Fort Museum
are notorious for such breaches of rules in Bhopal. What is more, the electronic traffic signals are observed in pretty fair measure. No wonder, the city is largely free of jams.

Another remarkable feature of Jaipur's traffic management is the way the roads have been kept free of vendors pushing hand carts or establishing themselves wherever they happen to find custom regardless of the space available on the roads. Jaipur has cleverly created "no-vending zones” where vendors are just not allowed. We didn't see any vendor in any of the "no-vending zones” we happened to come across. Vehicular movements were therefore found to be smooth as there were no hindrances
decorative colourful hangings on display
from hand carts or other encroachments as we come across in Bhopal. We also did not come across any small-time automobile workshop operated on the road-sides from a hole-in-the-wall establishment like we do in Bhopal particularly in its older parts.

The authorities have ingeniously attempted to solve the problem of rapidly increasing number of passenger cars in business centres like the traditional old market. A big underground parking lot has been created not far from the market for the vehicles of those who own or run the shops. They commute to their respective shops, if necessary, by using a pedicab. The space in front of the shops thus is left free for
Ethnic footwear on display in Bapu Market
shoppers' vehicles. Something like this is necessary for the New Market area of Bhopal. The problem of parking elsewhere in the town also seems to have been resolved well as densely parked vehicles did nowhere seemed to hinder traffic movement.

A conscious move to beautify the city is apparently underway. While a few squares are being re-laid with cobbled stones like in European towns, tableaus of statuary are on display on some central verges. Wherever there are
A man selling ethnic wooden toys in Bapu Market
roadside walls they have murals on them, some were getting fresh colourful ones. Roadside plantations are also being carried out in a big way. Despite being close to a desert Jaipur gives a pretty green appearance with quite a few parks, the biggest of which is the Central Park the green lawns of which we saw being watered by sprinklers and used by entire families for rest and recreation. Mobility of commuters has been taken care of by the BRTS running seemingly without any controversies. A metro has also been introduced recently and is up and running.
Effigies of Ravan on sale

The city fathers of Jaipur largely seem to have done well in taking care of the citizens' basic needs. Like most municipal councillors in the country they too probably are incompetent and corrupt, but quite clearly less so than their counterparts in Bhopal who look for money in practically every activity or venture. Bhopal seems to be like its poorer cousin, deprived, misgoverned and neglected.
 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

BHOPAL NOTES - 20 :: OF ENCROACHMENTS & POLITICAL CHICANERY

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Removal of encroachments in progress



What kind of a municipal corporation do we have which does not care for its assets, that is, people’s assets that need to be available for use by the people? A report recently said that after a drive to remove encroachments near the Bhopal Junction Railway Station the staff of the municipal corporation discovered a bus stop that was heavily encroached upon and was, apparently, unrecognizable. They were taken aback by their find and what is worse, the staff and their supervisor did not even know of it till they stumbled upon it. It is a very strange state of affairs. One wonders whether buses used to ply on the route, and, if so where they would be stopping to pick up passengers all these years.

The removal of encroachments was the brain-child of the Mayor. He was ably assisted by his minions, the magistracy and a squad of policemen with their inspectors. Policemen are very necessary on such drives as the encroachers very often tend to get violent. One gets amazed at the scale of encroachments. About 100 shops, kiosks (read gumties) and hand carts were removed from the area freeing up a very large circulating area for the traffic which had shrunk to a few measly square-feet. Not only the freed space would have no congestion now, the passengers coming to the Railway Station in their personal or hired vehicles will have an easier time.

The encroachments could never have taken place had the municipal officials been vigilant. But the problem actually is that even if they happen to be alert and vigilant they are pressurized by the elected public representatives like members of legislative assembly (MLAS) or municipal councilors to wink at such illegal occupation. For every shop that has encroached on public space or a kiosk or even a handcart selling odd merchandise these worthies collect (illegal) rent from those who are allowed to encroach. While they thus fatten up, the public is left to fend for itself through the confusion that is created. The entire town is full of encroachments – illegal occupation of public spaces because of these petty, unscrupulous politicians who make money by forcing other government servants/municipal employees to allow such unauthorized occupation. They are kind of a scourge for the society.

Once the then minister of Urban Administration & Development had got a dhaba demolished that had existed for more than twenty years. Soon thereafter we from the Citizens’ Forum had an occasion to call on him. During the conversation it was remarked that it was good that he had got a 20-year old encroachment demolished but what about action against the municipal men who allowed the encroachment in the first place and then allowed it to be continued. He blandly said here there was no concept accountability. Obviously, the municipal officials or government servants could allow illegal use of public properties earning gratification for years enriching themselves at the expense of the public and could go scot-free without any action against them. (Elected public representatives are naturally out of reckoning for this purpose.) This appeared to be the “system”. No wonder there are encroachments galore all over the town; if one area is made free of encroachments today, the same would be encroached upon the next day and the government and the municipality repeatedly have to use their resources to clear them at considerable expense to the tax-payer.

Soon after the anti-encroachment drive around the railway station another was planned in a congested area but that was stopped reportedly on the intervention of a member of the Legislative Assembly, Vishwas Sarang, who is gradually acquiring a powerful stature. His birthdays are celebrated with pomp and show and his residential property on the Link Road No.1 is brightly decked up. This is where quite illegally Suzuki is reportedly opening a NEXA outlet in an area that is purely residential. Politicians and ministers attending his parties here disdainfully used to park their vehicles on the BRTS corridor when it was still there. Now it seems the corridor has gone out of existence – perhaps at his instance. Having been stopped in his tracks, the Mayor has had to look for some other area where, too, he removed tens of encroachments. Thankfully this time he has directed that the ward and zonal officers of the Corporation would be held responsible if the encroachments recurred.

But, the latest reports say that the Mayor’s drives have lost steam. The MLAs and other politicians, presumably all rent-collectors, have pressurized him to go slow. Hence the last drive resulted only removal of kiosks and hand carts whereas the encroachments caused by erecting a permanent sort of structures were not touched. In fact, these also are traffic hindrances and also constitute a more grave offence.

Clearly, if the things are chaotic in this city today it is not entirely because of the failure of civic organisations. It is the petty and unscrupulous politicians in the town who are more responsible for it. Recently a traffic police officer said that if men in his organization were allowed to work freely they would be able to straighten things out in no time the city’s chaotic traffic. What he said was largely true. Some important politicians had told members of the Citizens’ Forum dealing with traffic matters that as a matter of their duty they would interfere every time if they are told about any of their constituents falling on the wrong side of traffic laws.

Hence the crux of the matter is if governance in this capital city is in a mess it is to a very large extent because of the MLAs and municipal councillors. The civic authorities working for making the citizens’ life easier are not being allowed to function according to the relevant laws by these political worthies. The latter are a bane for the city and the state - even the country – in fact, for the entire society.


Curiously, this town has a pretty massive Institute of Good Governance. No one, however, knows what it does. Perhaps, it is time it started educating politicians in this state bringing home to them the principles of “Good Governance”.  

*Photo: from internet

Sunday, January 17, 2016

DESTINATIONS :: FLORENCE (1987)

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A copy of Michelangello's David
As we headed towards Florence from Venice – a mere two to three-hour railway journey – we came across some towns the names of which were very familiar. Padua, for example, was one which I had come across while studying in college. It has a very old university where astronomer Galileo used to be in the faculty. Then again there was another stop at Verona, the locale of Shakespeare’s as many as three plays, viz “The Two Gentlemen of Verona”, “Taming of The Shrew” and, of course, “Romeo and Juliet” – Juliet’s balcony continues to be of unending interest and is one of the top tourist attractions. Even otherwise the place boasts of numerous touristy sites which include a Roman amphitheatre. Another town the name of which was familiar was Bologna. Its fame is because it hosts the world’s oldest university. Besides, it has a well-conserved medieval city-centre. Alas, we could not get off the train and take a peep into these cities which would have enriched the memories of this trip of ours to Italy.

Florence is the capital of Tuscany in the central region of Italy which is known for its landscapes, history, legacy in arts and influence on high culture. It has hosted numerous figures who were
A street in Florence
influential in its history, art, literature and thought. From Petrarch to Dante to Machiavelli, Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci, - an engineer as well as an artist who produced the iconic portrait Mona Lisa – all enriched Tuscany. Many of Tuscany’s cities, including Florence have been designated as World Heritage Sites. Besides, it is wine country and notable as it is for producing some of the top-rated wines it has among its produce the well-known wine Chianti.

Florence (Firenze in Italian) has its history rooted in Roman times. Built in 80 BC as an army camp, later it became a centre of trade and banking and eventually becoming economically, politically and culturally one of the most important cities of Europe. What is most
remarkable is that the language spoken in the city in the 14th Century was and is still considered as Italian language. Even in the prosaic financial sector its currency, the gold florin, financed industry, trade and even wars since middle ages. Besides, Florence was home to the powerful House of Medici whose members reigned as Grand Dukes of Tuscany. Two members of the family became popes and Lorenzo de Medici was considered a financial and cultural wizard.

A part of the huge Duomo
Speaking of culture, Florence is believed to be the birthplace of European Renaissance – the name given to the great revival in social and cultural pursuits driven by the rediscovery of Greek art, culture and philosophy, particularly the part that professes “humanism”. The city came to be known as “Athens of Middle Ages” because of Grecian influence on it in its various pursuits which may have been triggered by migrations from Greece. While Machiavelli, a humanist, has been called the founder of modern political science, Petrarch, known as the “Father of Humanism”, wielded tremendous influence on the movement that stretched from the 14th Century to 17th Century saturating everything with it from literature, architecture, sculpture, art and so on. It produced polymath giants like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo who were proficient in multiple fields of human endeavour, from science, engineering to sculpture, art and architecture and even poetry. Each of them has been designated as “Renaissance Man”.
We again put up in a pension on the first floor of a building that appeared pretty old. We had only a day and a half to go around and look at the city. We not only did not have time and we also were short of funds. Nonetheless, we did as best as we could within the limitations and wandered around the city.

The first attempt had to be to see the famous David of
Michelangelo even if it happened to be a replica. It was indeed a remarkable sculpture with a perfect human male body tensed up in
Campanile looking down on a Florence street
the face of the prospect of a fight with the monster Goliath. We, for some reason, could not view the original that was kept at the Academia Gallery. Perhaps it was under repairs or restoration. The statue reminded me of the Grecian marble statues that I happened to see in India in Baroda museum. Michelangelo was a product of Renaissance and no wonder it was as realistic as human figures etched in marble of ancient Greece. Michelangelo is stated to have worked at the age of 24 for two years to perfect this giant of a masterpiece which is reputed to be the most perfect representation in marble of a male human form. Those who have read Irving Stone’s “The Agony and the Ecstasy” would know to what extent Michelangelo would inflict pain on himself to get to that perfection in each of his pieces of art.

The Duomo is what dominates the city of Florence. It is the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore (Cathedral of St. Mary of the Flowers) is the main church of Florence and is also known as Duomo di Firenze. Its construction commenced in 1296 and it took around 200 years to build. The cathedral complex located in what is
Statue of Neptune in Piazza Della Signoria
known as the Piazza del Duomo comprises the Cathedral, the

Baptistery and Giotto’s Campanile (the bell tower). Giotto was the architect of Campanile who was another brilliant specimen to have appeared during the Renaissance in Florence.

The exterior of the Cathedral has polychrome marbles from several places in Italy, including well-known Carrara, in shades of green, white and pink giving it a distinctive look. Never before in my life had I seen such a multi-coloured Gothic cathedral. Most cathedrals are forbidding, generally in brooding dark grey or dirty brown. This one was bright and different. Its dimensions are immense – about 8000 square metres. Its height is enough to make it visible from most parts of the city – at least its octagonal dome. Austerely decorated, yet busts of all those connected with building of the edifice, including the distinguished architects, have been displayed prominently.

The obelisk at Pitti Palace
The octagonal dome alone took 20 years to build. In those early days it was highly problematic to put a cupola on a structure that touched 80 metres in height and 150 metres across. Curiously, it was a goldsmith, Brunellischi, who was approved to build the difficult cupola that was plagued by many architectural problems. It was completed by 1436 to give the Florentines a cathedral that was ultimately covered from the top. Soon after consecration of the finished cathedral Brunnelischi, the goldsmith-architect, died handing down to posterity a cupola that continues to dominate the city’s skyline. It was the largest dome in the world until new structural materials came on the scene. It, however, continues to be the largest brick dome ever constructed. Its insides are frescoed with the scenes of Last Judgment and one cannot help wondering how the artists painted every inch of it suspended at that height.

Wandering around in the Florentine streets was itself very interesting and wWalking aimlessly on the cobbled streets with their aged still-in-use buildings was, indeed, a pleasure. Virtually on every turn a new captivating vista would open up brimming over with tourists and surely many locals. What were more interesting were the piazzas that one got to quite by chance. Piazzas are nothing but public squares surrounded by buildings and more often beautified by an elegant sculptural complex and a decorated fountain. One such was the piazza where we came across the statue of Neptune.

In front of the Campanile
 As we entered another street the Campanile hove into view with dramatic suddenness and appeared standing tall and erect seemingly keeping a watch over the goings-on down below. The Campanile is always called Giotto’s who was its designer-architect but there were many who lent their expertise not only to this structure but even to the Cathedral. The Campanile is a freestanding bell tower more than eighty metres high adjacent to the Duomo built on a square plan with sides of around 15 metres embellished by decorated niches, alcoves and customized sculptures. The most distinctive feature of it is that the architect who designed the upper three levels are each slightly bigger than the ones immediately below so that in perspective all the levels, instead of appearing smaller, look equal in dimensions. The Campanile, once again, has a polychromic appearance with the marbles of three colours in geometric patterns.

We rushed through Palazzo Medici and Palazzo Pitti, both residences of the Medici – the latter one was even used by Napoleon for some time. They are so huge that it wasn’t possible to cover them thoroughly, thus missing out on the wealth that the palaces are repositories of. At the Pitti Palace we stumbled upon an Egyptian obelisk with hieroglyphics inscribed on it. As we later saw in Paris, these were the loot of the European powers after their various Egyptian campaigns.
We hurried on to the station as it was time to catch the train for Rome, the city that holds in thrall every visitor.  


Saturday, January 9, 2016

Pakistani Terror Repeats History at Pathankot

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Three neutralised terrorists
The attack on the Pathankot Air Force Station was expected. I am sure the Indian Government and its security agencies must have anticipated it. It had to happen as it had always happened after every initiative for talks between India and Pakistan. One wonders whether the perpetrators of these are really so dumb as to believe that their nefarious designs would not be anticipated despite the historical background. It is, of course, sad that five well-trained young men from the Pakistani terror stable and seven young Indian soldiers lost their lives just for the reason of one-upmanship of the Pakistani Army and its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Life is cheap across the border as there is an assembly line that produces fidayeens and the military establishment makes use of them whenever the occasion demands. They are the cannon fodder that they raise with the objective of inflicting “1000 cuts” on India. The cream of their youth is being sacrificed for achievement of an objective that is, at best, delusional. Curiously, however, the ISI, which patronises the anti-India terrorist groups, used this time Jaish-e-Mohammed of Maulana Masood Azhar instead of its favourite Hafiz Sayeed-led Lashkar e Taiba. Perhaps the idea was to put the cognoscenti in India off the scent.

It seems the Pakistan military establishment felt that the country’s prime minister was getting to be too big for his boots and that he needed to be cut down to size. How could he agree to a visit by an Indian Prime Minister without their clearance? Regardless of the admiration that Modi’s diplomatic masterstroke evoked across the world, the Pakistan Army had to show to the world, if at all it had to do so, that in so far as relations with India were concerned it was they who took the initiatives and not the democratically elected civil government or the prime minister. Helming the India-Pakistan proceedings for long – in fact since the birth of the country – it could not let go of the authority it had acquired and had been wielding just because an upstart prime minister of the sworn enemy suddenly decides to descend at Lahore. Greeting Nawaz Sharif on his birthday is one thing, parachuting down to Lahore hogging publicity and disturbing the status quo quite another.

That there are two power centres in Pakistan and that the one that is housed in the General Headquarters (Pakistan Army) in Rawalpindi generally gets better of its civilian counterpart in many respects, especially in respect of relations with neighbouring India, is known the world over. This was pointedly brought out in a delightful autobiographical narrative by the ex-RAW (Research & Analysis Wing) chief AS Dulat in his book “Kashmir – the Vajpayee years”. He was probably one top sleuth who talked and talked to all the Kashmiri militants. He recounted how one of them told him that nothing in Kashmir could happen unless it was cleared by the ISI. He was categorically told that in Kashmiri militancy it was the ISI that called the shots. But, it is well known that 26/11 Mumbai attack, far away from Jammu & Kashmir, was planned and executed by none other than the ISI. The Pathankot operations next to its border with India could not also have taken place without precision planning of the spy organization.

Quite clearly, the Pakistani security establishments will never allow peace initiatives with India to fructify. India is their enemy and they seem to be totally against peaceful relations with it. This, as a Pakistani journalist Mehmal Sarfaraz said, is their “world view”. They upstaged the peace initiatives in late 1990s by capturing the Kargil heights and then planned and executed 26/11 Mumbai attacks in 2008 to undo whatever had been achieved towards only commencement of talks. And, now that Modi muscled in and established a personal rapport with the Pakistani Prime Minister the latter’s Army would have none of it. Within 8 days of Modi’s Lahore visit they broke into the Pathankot Air force Station. Although planning for such an attack would take months but, most probably, the script was ready and they thought this was the best moment to put it into operation.

Pakistan has condemned the attack as if some other country had carried it out. So soon after a huge bear-hug with Modi Nawaz Sharif, perhaps, had to say something. But the pity is he did not assure of preventing a repeat attack. He could not have, in any case, as he has no control over his rogue army. It is a very rare kind of situation where the civil authority talks peace and its army wages war. This has happened not once, not twice but a number of times. Pakistani democracy is, therefore, a sham with an army that works in the international arena at cross purposes with the civilian authority. It has become so powerful and has developed such enormous vested interests in keeping Indo-Pak tensions high and the civilian government under its boots that no democratic process perhaps could ever shake it away.

No wonder, what the Afghan President Ghani did first thing after landing in Pakistan was to make a beeline for Rawalpindi. Even the US does business with the Pakistan Army as evidenced by the extended visit by its chief to the country. In matters of its concerns the feeling in the US is that it is not the Prime Minister but the Army Chief who can deliver. The latter has, therefore, eclipsed the Prime Minister. Besides, the current Army Chief has quickly acquired a “cult hero” status by battling terrorism and bringing in relative peace in the generally violent city of Karachi. Self-confessedly, the Army Chief plays a wider “soldier-statesman” role given the inability of the democratically elected government to govern effectively. He has opened a front against the jihadists operating in the West but opening a front against those operating in the East against India is another matter. These jihadists are his assets for inflicting those “1000 cuts”.

The pity, however, is that this attack has come so soon after the “d├ętente” arrived at official talks held between the National Security Advisers and the foreign secretaries of the two countries at Bangkok early in December 2015. The first of the several take-aways from these talks was engagement with each other after years of harsh language and diplomatic sulk. Another take-away was the agreement reached to hold talks on Kashmir and terrorism. Th disengagement happened at Pathankot even before the ink used for the agreement could dry up. If a country could renege so quickly after arriving at an agreement at such a high level, perhaps, there would be no point in having anything to do with it.

Having invested so much in his ‘peace-mongering’ with Pakistan the attack on Pathankot should be a serious setback to Modi. The Opposition Congress is likely to tear him to pieces though its efforts over the last few decades did not yield anything much. The alternatives for Modi would seem to be only two - to go ahead with his peace initiatives either with the civil authority or with the Pak Army Chief or to take an about-turn and severe all relations (to the extent possible) with Pakistan. Already shrill voices are pitching for the latter course of action. It perhaps would be unwise but seems right at least in the immediate aftermath of Pathankot.



*Photo: from internet