India Insight

Kejriwal needs different approach to win hearts and votes

The Arvind Kejriwal-Robert Vadra faceoff has finally reached the place where it should be — in court instead of in the press.

An activist named Nutan Thakur filed a public interest litigation (PIL) in the Allahabad High Court on Oct. 9, and it has now been admitted. The government must respond within three weeks. Thakur wants the court to explore allegations by social activist Kejriwal that Vadra, son-in-law of Congress Party chief Sonia Gandhi, has been involved in shady land deals.

Perhaps court is the best venue for trying to find out if there is any less-than-aboveboard connection between Vadra, real estate firm DLF and the Haryana government, despite the lonely, but rewarding work of good investigative journalists.

But, there is a question that continues to bother me: why did the budding politician Kejriwal not go to court himself if he and his team had substantial allegations to make against Vadra? If publicity were the reason, he would have started his campaign on a weak note.

Kejriwal is promoting nothing but the concept of “media trial” — a cynical but sometimes effective circus that involves leaders, would-be leaders and various experts debating and levelling charges against each other in press conferences and during prime-time news hours. Whether justice gets done is an open question, but there is no question that it’s good for ratings and that people get their entertainment.

Photo gallery: a Hipstamatic trip through Old Delhi

As an iPhone owner and an avid Hipstamatic user, I’ve been capturing daily life on the streets of Delhi for the past few months. As someone who was born and raised outside of India, I’m struck by how much of life is played out on the streets here. From bathing to cooking to sleeping, India’s streets are truly an extension of the home, and in many cases, is home itself.

Most of the photos are from Old Delhi, a world within a world in the heart of the Indian capital. The old quarters were once known as Shahjahanabad — named after Mughal Emperor Shahjahan who built the city in the 1600s.

Seventeenth-century writers and poets described the old city as “paradise” and “like a Garden of Eden”. Chandni Chowk, Old Delhi’s main thoroughfare, once had a canal running down the centre. Today, the canal has disappeared and Old Delhi is overcrowded and run down, and poverty is rife. Beggars line the narrow alleys alongside vendors selling everything from a fresh lime soda to used car parts, and young, homeless drug users huddle to smoke heroin before passing out on the side of the street.

Watch your mouth: indignation at every turn

When you’re in a khap, you can say whatever you want, but it has to be pretty outrageous to annoy people beyond the city limits. One idea that has cleared the bar? Lowering the minimum marriage age to prevent girls from being raped.

“Boys and girls should be married by the time they turn 16 years old, so that they do not stray …this will decrease the incidents of rape.”

That’s the kind of thing that you expect a conservative patriarch to mutter through his beard while drinking tea with a friend. Comment done, world moves on.

Spending time in ‘Narcopolis’ with Jeet Thayil

I spent some time talking with Jeet Thayil, whose book on Mumbai and opium culture is a contender for this year’s Man Booker Prize, which will be awarded on Oct. 16. You can read the interview that we published on the Reuters news wire. Here are some excerpts:

Q: Does this make you feel strongly about the city?

A: “Bombay does that to people. It makes a (connection) with you. It makes it difficult for you. It bludgeons you. I’ve been reading about that area, Shuklaji street. It is disappearing now – Kamatipura, Shuklaji street, (the) entire area between Mumbai Central and Grant Road is disappearing, being bought away by real estate sharks who are buying up all the broken-down houses and making tall buildings. So very soon that entire district will disappear, and with it a million stories.

Q: In an interview you used the word “seductive” for Bombay. In “Narcopolis”, words seem to come from under a cloud of smoke. Is there a parallel you have drawn between opium and Mumbai?

Photo gallery: A walk through Mehrauli Archaeological Park

Next time you plan a visit to the Qutub Minar, venture beyond its crowded complex. Walk past the parking lot, which is on your left, and take the first right turn. Next to the Qutub Restaurant is an obscured path. Take the path, walk down a few steps and this is what you see:

 

You are inside the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, located in what was once the first of the seven historic cities of Delhi, dating back about a thousand years. The first structure (see below) is the Metcalfe House, which was once a tomb. Thomas Metcalfe was an agent of the Governor General of India to the court of Bahadur Shah Zafar, India’s last Mughal emperor.

 

As you move on, you’d find columns to your left and right, guiding you to several structures in this area. This also is a Delhi Development Authority park. Next stop is the Jamali Kamali mosque.

Kudankulam’s neighbours weigh nuclear power fears against living standards

Rani enters her home for the first time in more than a week. She switches on the light, but it doesn’t work. Tsunami Colony, where she lives in the village of Idinthakari, has been deserted for months, and the electricity supply has been patchy.

The people who were living in the development fear that the police will return and ransack houses – as they reportedly have done to several places in the village. The residents prefer to sleep on the sand outside St. Lourdes church here in Idinthakari in Tamil Nadu, alongside people who have spent more than a year protesting the planned opening of the Kudankulam Nuclear Power Plant, which sits about 2 kilometres away.

There have been nearly 400 days of protests in the village. A plastic board outside the church tallies this number, every day. Villagers claim that their power supply has been irregular with long power cuts ever since they started protesting.

Heavy-duty designs and a hint of Bollywood break Sunday slumber at Fashion Week

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Kanika Saluja Chaudhary shook fashion fans awake with her strong designs featuring metal work and elaborate headgear on Sunday afternoon, the second day of the Wills Lifestyle India Fashion Week in Delhi.

Chaudhary has dressed up Madonna, Nargis Fakhri and Chitrangada Singh, among others. Her designs at Fashion Week, she said, were for women who are creators, fighters and destroyers.

Anaikka (Chaudhary’s label) is known for metal, so we always focus on that. Metal represents strength, longevity and destruction, that’s our focus,’ said Kanika, “I believe metal is a shield, not only in the time of war, but in today’s time as well, it represents shielding, perseverance, strength.”

Cauvery River water fight paralyses Bangalore on Saturday

(This article was reported by Gokul Chandrasekar, Vineet Sharma and Bidya Sapam. Photos by Bidya Sapam)

The water was running in Bangalore on Saturday, but the buses were not.

“I have been waiting for a bus for over two hours now,” said Prabhat Kishan, 60, at the Majestic Bus Station in Bangalore.

India’s information technology capital shut down on Saturday over a state-wide “bandh,” or strike, that shut down shops, malls and restaurants. The bandh’s organizers paralysed the city to protest a decision by India’s Supreme Court to demand that the state of Karnataka allow the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu to get precious additional reserves of water from the Cauvery River. It is the latest episode in a dispute that has endured for years in a country that is facing alarming shortages of groundwater.

Kejriwal 2.0 not enough to change India’s political landscape

It wasn’t long ago that social activist Arvind Kejriwal called India’s parliamentarians “rapists, murderers and looters“. After making no bones about his hatred for India’s politicians during his anti-corruption movement, the former Team Anna member may soon be breaking bread and rubbing shoulders with the targets of his scorn now that he has decided to enter politics.

Kejriwal’s first test could be the assembly elections in Delhi next year. Will his rhetoric translate into votes? Will his party succeed in overthrowing a state government that has been in power for nearly 15 years in the capital? (Please participate in our poll on Arvind Kejriwal. Our question: will his new party be able to make a political impact? At the moment, “yes” votes outnumber “no” votes by nearly two to one.)

If you go by his “vision document“, the idea of a government run by the people gives an impression that parliamentary democracy is somehow a different thing. The former Magsaysay Award winner wants citizens to make decisions on budget, commodity prices and lawmaking. While there is no doubt that his ideas hint at a disorganized system of governance, it’s a college student’s version of idealism and it won’t transform India’s government.

Going vegetarian for Gandhi Jayanti

My Indian friends have assured me beyond all reasonable doubt that it is not novel to write that India’s liquor sales stop by law on Gandhi Jayanti, the national holiday celebrating the birth of Mohandas K. Gandhi. What was more interesting to me was a note that I read online on Tuesday from my friend Anoo Bhuyan:

“Today at a supermarket, I saw that the entire freezer section was covered in newspaper. A sign on it said, ‘Due to Gandhi Jayanthi,’ non veg not for sales.” (She was in southern India, which accounts for the “h” in “Jayanthi.”)

I wrote back to her: “And yes – have you seen this kind of thing before? Is it normal or widespread? That is, if I mentioned it, would every Indian reader say, ‘yes, of course?’”

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