“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence; then your success is sure”, so said Mark Twain (1835-1910) years ago. How true it is till this day! Many a politician and bureaucrat in this country have been successfully ruling over the unsuspecting people with great aplomb and, yes, with utter ignorance.
A barefaced example of this was provided by Manish Singh, Commissioner of the Municipal Corporation of Bhopal, the capital of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, recently in an interview when he was asked about neglect of the old city. He pontificated, “New city will always look more beautiful, developed and organised. This holds true in every part of the world. Since this part of the city came later it has more space for roads, houses, traffic and greenery... In old city there are constraints like want of space, encroachments, crowds and congestion, narrow roads and lanes, etc. and also protests against anti-encroachment drives.
Singh is seemingly unaware that the old quarters in almost all European towns are more beautiful than the newer parts. It is the older parts that the tourists flock to and, therefore, Singh’s, counterparts in such cities, a more alert and active lot, take greater care of these parts. Obviously, he also hasn’t heard of the term “downtown” used in America that originated from Manhattan Island of New York City in the early 19th Century and eventually came to be referred to the historical cores, more often the commercial hearts, of the cities across America. They are never neglected.
Bhopal’s old city is no different; only, unlike in Europe and the USA, it has been neglected by the municipality. It is utter fallacy to say old Bhopal is unplanned. People familiar with the town would know that, for example, besides what is known as the Royal Ensemble, the Chowk area was meticulously planned with roads (with thriving commerce) radiating from its core that houses a historic mosque. Even the area between Hamidia Road and Imami-Peer Gates complex (about an area of four square kilometres) is well-planned, it being divided into squares by several parallel roads.
Only, because of ignorance and palpable apathy, these areas have been allowed to go to seed. They have never been taken care of. Lack of governance has enabled rampant encroachments and total absence civic services.