In Delhi on 27 November 2004, flagged by astrologers for rare confluence of favourable signs for weddings and alliances, ostentation unembarrassed by riches raged in Saturday night fever. The party to humble all parties was hosted by no less than the Aga Khan at Humayun's Tomb, a celebration that history has no choice but to flag for rare humiliation.
Use of land and buildings in Delhi is governed by Delhi Development Act, an Act of Parliament, through stipulations of Delhi Master Plan (revised, 1990) about activities permissible in various types of premises. Activities not permitted - such as commercial functions in residential farmhouses or private functions in historical monuments - attract penalties. Historical monuments in India are governed also by the Ancient Monuments & Archaeological Sites & Remains Act, 1958, also an Act of Parliament, that guarantees public access and prohibits holding, except in pursuance of a recognised religious usage or custom, of any meeting, reception, party, conference or entertainment except under and in accordance with a permission in writing by Central Government, permission that obviously cannot be granted in contravention of other law. Moreover, access after sunset, otherwise prohibited by law, presumably cannot be permitted even under this rule. It has taken a special Supreme Court intervention to open, for the first time this weekend, the Taj for viewing on Full Moon night, subject to several restrictions being monitored by the Apex Court. Any use of historical sites, in any case, must be respectful of history. Humayun's Tomb is tomb, not pleasure pavilion, of the Indian Emperor Humayun. It bears historical association with the summary execution of three Indian princes, sons of Indian Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, by the British - surely a national tragedy if not national humiliation. The Americans would not tolerate a private banquet on WTC site; President Bush would not preside over a private award ceremony in Ford Theatre where President Lincoln was assassinated; even the British would not allow a private banquet at Tower of London or BBC to telecast live its occasion; the Japanese would not permit such a thing in Hiroshima; South Koreans would not allow revelries at Samjeondo. But at Humayun's Tomb in Delhi, a celebration not allowed by sovereign law or national sentiment was not only hosted - by a party not only private but also foreign, His Highness the Aga Khan - but also attended by, among others, Lieutenant Governor of Delhi and, as chief guest, Prime Minister of India, and telecast live by DD-News, the government's news channel.
The Lieutenant Governor was not even mentioned by name, not even by DD-News commentators, and only shown seated in front row in the audience as it waited for the host and his chief guest to arrive. Though the official press release from PMO starts, "The Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh gave away the 9th Agha Khan Award for Architecture", His Highness had already given away the first of his awards before he remembered to give the Prime Minister seated besides him on the stage any cue and for several moments Dr Manmohan Singh was visibly confused about what was expected of him.
The celebration was purportedly for awards for excellence in architecture, but let there be no mistake - excellence in architecture was not honoured. Sure, His Highness rewarded seven projects, but what was celebrated was only his empire and agenda of the consortia in which it is business or cultural partner. His speech, like the media run-up of five days including his interview telecast on DD-News after the ceremony, waxed eloquent only about his worldview and the business of his Network and the processes of his Award for rewarding excellence in conformity therewith. He clearly said that presence of international guests who have "prominent and responsible positions at home" was his honour and to "recognize" winners of his awards was his pleasure.
In a press interview of the same day his Secretary General "recognized" by name all of three Indian architects, all of whom have been serving on the independent Master Jury for His Highness's awards. Other Indian architects and others "recognized" by His Highness's Development Network were presumably also invited. Other Indian architects were stopped from entering Humayun's Tomb, open to public from sunrise to sunset by law. Mr Neehar Raina, Delhi-based architect of the last of seven Indian projects to win the Award was not even invited - even though the circumstances in which that award was won (only to extent of certificate, after a "controversy" that arose from lapse on part of independent Master Jury leading to an NGO claiming - in name of barefoot architecture - the trophy and cash prize, besides honour, at the 8th cycle award ceremony at Citadel of Aleppo, Syria) did call for the Aga Khan to felicitate Mr Raina in this award ceremony even if it was not being held in Delhi. Instead, Mr Raj Rewal, "recognised" Delhi-based architect who was on the errant Master Jury of the 8th cycle, was honoured with privilege of giving the curtain raiser interview telecast just before the live telecast of the 9th cycle award ceremony.
None of the seven projects that won the 9th cycle award being celebrated in Delhi are Indian. References were made to the 7 Indian projects among the 97 awarded in the last 27 years of the award. Three of these were inconsistent with sovereign law. The honouring of an NGO for Mr Raina's professional work in the 8th cycle is inconsistent with Indian Architects' Act. The two projects honoured in Indore - Slum Networking (7th cycle) and Aranya low-income housing (6th cycle) - involve Indore Master Plan violations. At the 9th cycle ceremony, Tilonia's barefoot-architecture and Aranya were not mentioned. Slum Networking, however, was - by Mr Rewal, by DD-News commentator, and by Prime Minister. Prime Minister and Mr Rewal mentioned it in appreciation of the range of the award (with Mr Rewal erroneously describing the city-wide project as improvement of a slum area). The commentator's mention included name of the awardee, Mr Himanshu Parikh, and was accompanied by a visual - of a cluster of squalid jhuggis along a nullah and two grubby half-naked children - as incongruous in a dossier of awarded projects as was the specific reference to Madhya Pradesh in news reports about President's request to the Aga Khan to expand his Network's work in India, reiterated in the hope, expressed by the commentator at the end of the telecast, about India receiving awards in future for projects as in Indore and Bhopal.
This Indore incongruity might mean little to most. To me it represents most extreme professional humiliation and to explain that I need to digress to make the connection between the award given in 1998 and what was, in effect, its reiteration in 2004.
DfID funded city-wide slum upgrading in Indore affected directly 80000 slum families and the city as a whole and was nothing short of civic disaster - with choked drainage, ground water contamination, disease and deaths - as established by the impact assessment study commissioned by none other than DfID. In 1997 I had done that study as senior consultant, reported my findings to city, state and central governments, lodged my protest with DfID, agencies that had identified the project as Indian best-practice to be selected as global best-practice at Habitat-II in 1996 and to UN-Habitat, also on account of Habitat Award in 1993, and quit the mainstream in protest against all-round indifference to tragic truth. In 1998 the project got the Aga Khan Award. I protested to all again, with reference also to Aranya (which is practically non-existent), wrote an article in The Hindu and made presentations at Indian Institute of Architects' (IIA) annual convention at Vizag and, in early 1999, at Institute of Town Planners (ITPI) in Delhi.
The last, a power point presentation in context of Indore Master Plan, Madhya Pradesh Patta Act and HUDCO / state policy land reservations for the poor (all disregarded in the two winning projects) was also made as public presentation in Indore with help of a small NGO called Deenbandhu / Jhuggi Basti Sangharsh Morcha (JBSM) that had carried out an Oxfam survey in 1997-98 that also found no evidence of city-wide slum improvement. The public presentation led to an invitation to meet the press and access to local newspaper archives, where I was able to unravel the project history or, rather, scam. My paper based on this was published (and also given prize for best paper of the volume) by Habitat International (the professional journal, not civil society coalition HIC).
In 1999 schools on prime sites were being closed in Indore by opening schools in community halls built under the slum project and I provided professional support (booklet and exhibition) for Deenbandhu / JBSM to protest and when I sat in protest against the IIA and Council of Architecture outside the IIA's next convention in Indore after they refused to visit Aga Khan awarded projects, Deenbandhu / JBSM joined me. We also collaborated in the protest against closure / demolition of TB Sanatorium housed in a Patrick Geddes building near Indore, while Delhi based "eminent" architects were sourcing British funds to set up a Patrick Geddes Centre, to make way for unplanned IIM on excessive site, a case that I included in presentations in architecture colleges, etc, and assisted Deenbandhu / JBSM in finding a lawyer (who later became counsel for most of my clients' Master Plan implementation litigation in Delhi) to take to Supreme Court, where it was lost only after they lost interest in it.
When DfID's Indore model was extrapolated to draft national slum policy I drew attention to the policy's source in whatever way I could, on one occasion, with Deenbandhu and their friend from HRLN and mine from CIDCO, at Mr Himanshu Parikh's presentation in Mumbai on a platform where, incidentally, Mr Rahul Mehrotra (Mumbai Architect and Urban Planner on the 9th cycle Master Jury) was also present. On another occasion, at a meeting of professionals that Mr Jagmohan had called when he was urban development minister, I reacted sharply and at length to the support, uncalled for by the discussion on hand, that Mr Romi Khosla (who also works for the Foundation in some responsible capacity) extended to "their" project.
Much of the foregoing is chronicled in my book (Slumming India, 2001) in a chapter called The Emperor's New Clothes. I do not know exactly how or why, but the proposal to extrapolate Indore to state-wide project in Madhya Pradesh as well as draft slum policy were back-burnered then.
By 2001 (by when I was in the midst of my self-imposed task of diagnosing anomie in urban development by tracking Master Plan revisions in context of twin dynamics of atrophy in professional institutions and political parties and ascendancy of para-professionalism and civil-society and by devising and testing, in Delhi, rigorous mechanisms for democratic citizens' participation in Master Plan processes), Deenbandhu had got FCRA clearance and was participating in regional / national civil society policy discourse, including with DfID, UN-Habitat, HIC, COHRE, HRLN, Action-Aid, Delhi groups engaged in activism against Master Plan, etc. We collaborated no further.
In 2002 its convenor, Rajiv John George, became convenor of a national forum for housing rights (NFHR, mentioned in 2000-2002 activity report of COHRE). In 2003, Action-Aid (whose regional director Mr Harsh Mander was, incidentally, Chief Secretary to Madhya Pradesh Government when the Indore slum project was underway) arranged for Ms Shabana Azmi and Ms Arundhati Roy to release a book by the Delhi group in NFHR that abrasively sets out their anti Master Plan position, most identified with one Dunu Roy. In January 2004 all of them were together at World Social Forum in a housing rights event that criticized Indian planning law and profession. Public debate on their position was demanded in a statement signed by qualified professionals, and aegis for this requested from organisers of WSF and parallel anti-imperialism forum MR and from various constitutional authorities and professional institutions. The statement was forwarded by President of India to Secretary MoUD on 11.02.2004. On 13.02.2004 Pushta clearance, imminence of which was evident at time of WSF but apparently not taken up by the housing-rights-activist discourse there, began.
In April, while Pushta was being evicted, Rajiv John George visited Delhi - to speak, along with DfID, Action-Aid, etc, at some discussion on the Oxfam Lukhnow slum study. On 01-04 October NFHR held its second "big" event, after WSF, the India Habitat Campaign for UN World Habitat Day - in Delhi, ironically based next to Humayun's Tomb. It demanded from UPA government, curiously in name of its National Common Minimum Programme, the (DfID) draft slum policy of NDA government, gathered on Gandhi Jeyanti to mourn Pushta eviction, and specifically protested only the so-called eviction of Action-Aid night-shelter from NDMC property, about which NFHR gave statements, Ms Azmi and her groups met PM, UN Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari reported to UN, etc. For the rest, the impression somehow conveyed was that evictions had stopped under UPA, which is not true. At the time a s.11A Public Notice inviting objections and suggestions for proposal to modify the Master Plan to regularize the metro IT Park under construction on the riverbed since start of Pushta clearance in name of court orders for clearance of all riverbed encroachments was out and citizens groups were using it to raise issues about Pushta evictions, implementation of Master Plan entitlements for housing, industrial and commercial space, etc. Rather than engage on this, NFHR preferred to stay with fuzzy rights events in its habitat campaign, just as the Left wasted the following week its massive rally to protest closure of industries on making fuzzy political speeches.
In October 2004 Dunu Roy and Rajiv John George were together also on restricted public domain web-sites of Tehelka and Combat Law special issue on planning. They have been saying what is needed for housing rights and slums is well researched Supreme Court PIL (read "unbundled" uni-perspective rights tirade to obfuscate holistic statutory solutions for conflict resolution in pursuit of backdoor legislation to downsize statutory entitlements, as played out already in the industries PIL, hawkers PIL, free seats and beds PIL, etc). The "debate" for and against the Master Plan is now being circumscribed in institutionalised para-professional dissent space.
In Dunu Roy's corner is already the weight of, besides agreeable "eminent" Architect-cum-Planners, book launched by Ms Azmi and Ms Roy. ITPI (which has not lent any support to the rigorous efforts for seeking accountability on the slum project in Indore or for Master Plan implementation in Delhi, etc, had hosted in 2002 on its dais Dunu Roy, etc, is embroiled in a starting reference in the World Bank study document for Delhi that begins with a statement to the effect that the Master Plan is outdated concept, has a key HRLN operator appearing as counsel for a Mumbai chapter member and against a signatory of the professionals' statement at WSF in a service matter becoming definitional matter in Supreme Court, etc) will be holding a conference on Master Plan implementation in December - in Indore. Timely weight - of honour - has just been added in Rajiv John George's corner on 24th November with global award for defending housing rights through, if you please, Master Plan implementation activism (complete with ubiquitous reference to implausible use of GIS on their 1997-98 Oxfam funded survey), with a citation conspicuously quiet about the sterling work of Deenbandhu / JBSM in 1998-2000 to demand accountability about the celebrated slum project.
This honour connecting housing-rights-activism and Master Plan implementation was bestowed in Geneva by COHRE (Centre for Housing Rights and Evictions), which set up / promoted NFHR and "has a long history of assisting NGOs ... in using the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to promote and protect human rights" (by reporting to it against their governments). The Geneva-based Aga Khan Development Network is also member of the Geneva Environment Network (GEN), "a cooperative partnership between over 40 environment and sustainable development organizations and units based in the International Environment House and elsewhere in the Geneva area, including United Nations offices and programmes, specialized agencies and NGOs" that "aims at improving information dissemination and public outreach, and at developing other joint activities".
The Indore incongruity in the 9th award cycle sits not on chance, or even considered forgiving, references to Madhya Pradesh by President and to Indore slum project by Prime Minister, but on well-founded confidence about modifying, through professional space manipulations, the legitimate demand for accountability. Whether this manipulation emanates from the Foundation or from others in the consortia of which it is part that are abusing its award is rather irrelevant for us. Sadly, in either case it can hardly emanate without the complicity of our own and the possibility that the references by President and Prime Minister were also manipulated cannot be discounted.
Although the seven projects awarded in Delhi were not Indian, they were not alien. Only the deaf would have failed to hear the harmony between His Highness's strident advocacy of civil society, private enterprise, compassion for the vulnerable, despair about growing slums, etc, and the Bhagidari-tune to which free-wheeling mis-governance has been unleashed in Delhi since 1999-2000. And only the blind would have missed the resemblance between the collective vision of the awarded projects and the vision of Delhi being aggressively pushed since 1999-2000 under the garb of a wholly illegal Master Plan revision. The first and last on the list of honours (revival of legendary ancient Greek library as world class landmark and the world's tallest buildings in Kuala Lumpur's mixed-use city centre complex) provide images to match slogans of world-class-city and mixed-use-flexibility in sundry vision statements about Delhi. The fourth and fifth (old city revitalization and weekend home in spot of beauty, tranquillity and seclusion) provide images for slogan of global-capital-for-all-sorts-of-tourism. The second and third (village school and sandbag shelter prototypes) provide they-can-do-it ideas for the bewildering amount of ongoing abdication of state responsibility in favour of supposedly empowering do-it-yourself and less-is-more options for the people. If front page report of same morning about imminent consideration by DDA Advisory Council of a draft of revised Delhi Master Plan based on visions with no basis in planning law or sense but finely tuned with the collective vision of the projects honoured in the evening is coincidence, then it is a remarkable one.
References to planning in discourse on cities built from pretty pieces with nowhere to fit are irrelevant because planning operates at levels of the frameworks, not of the pieces. Frameworks have to be holistically designed so needs can be met equitably, capabilities used efficiently, conflicts resolved in space and across time. They cannot be extrapolated from any one piece. Single-cause crusades that use portions of statutory Plans in pursuit of their agendas rather than of Plan goals (like the housing-rights-defence of Rajiv John George or Mr Jagmohan's clean-green-culture-by-bulldozer) can not be considered support for Plans. Nor can frameworks be rejected on basis of criticism that fails to develop as far as plausible alternative, as with shoddy anarchist or anarcho-capitalist counter-arguments-with-no-end (like those constructed with prolific but dubious statistics by Dunu Roy or with well dressed imagery crafted for His Highness by his "recognized" ones).
The plannerly position that Prime Minister appeared to take in some recent speeches also disappeared in the resource allocation reference, rather use of phrase resource allocation for dole, in his speech (a reference selected from it by the Foundation for inclusion in its press release). Expressing gratitude to the Foundation for its magnificient work on the gardens of Humayun's Tomb, Prime Minister said, "This effort has been an instructive example for us in finding new and creative solutions to the age-old problem of allocating scarce resources in a developing country to the preservation of our heritage. I hope that more public-private partnerships can be evolved."
As far as I know, this magnificient work cost just Rs.50 lakhs and there was neither comparative appraisal nor competitive tender (required in any democratic public-private partnership in general and, in case of heritage, irrespective of who pays because we are all only custodians, as also stated by both His Highness and our Prime Minister) to ascertain either investment optimality or priority vis-à-vis other sites. What a systematic cost-benefit appraisal might have thrown up then no one knows, but an unfortunate calculation that must now be made is of net worth or damage of allowing (with gratitude), in lieu of magnificent work of Rs.50 lakhs, the Aga Khan to violate sovereign Indian law. In a matter no different in principle, Hon'ble Delhi High Court has issued notice the previous week to authorities to explain their "policy" to allow misuse of farmhouses for wedding parties against a fee.
It is also noteworthy that under the very law violated on 27th in lieu of magnificent work, both jhuggies and hawkers were evicted in 2002-2003 in name of worthiness of said work. Indeed, distortions in intra-generational equity guarantees on mere promise of inter-generational equity is becoming rampant, regardless at times even of deaths of children, the posterity for whom the past is being preserved. The possibility that even a future controlled by the fittest that survive in this equity-at-cost-of-equity paradigm might find inheritance pickled in flavour of unlawful charity wilfully bestowed and gratefully accepted somewhat humiliating cannot be altogether discounted.
The connection, or rather the inevitability of dis-connect, between ad-hoc heritage initiatives and slum interventions was brought to the attention of the Foundation, with reference to, on one hand, the honoured Indore slum project for riverfront slums and on the other Pushta clearance for Mr Jagmohan's extended plan for Red Fort inspired by the work in the gardens of Humayun's Tomb. This was in a mail about "controversies" about the Indian awards and use of monuments in India, sent following news reports early this year of plans to hold the award ceremony at Agra. In May the Award Director was in Delhi and invited me for a chat and I went over. I declined offers to be nominator in next cycle, do commissioned review of the awarded projects, etc, and offered instead simple suggestions for tightening up the award process. I thought he was persuaded that I was not blaming the Foundation for the projects but only for slackness in its award process, neither to embarrass the Foundation nor to blackmail it for any favour but only because the Award happens to be an institution of the profession and should not be seen to be irresponsibly celebrating civic tragedies, promoting para-professionalism, protecting errant jury members, promoting other interests of the promoter, taking advantage of its other investments, etc.
What happened on 27th suggests I might have been mistaken, but on 24th I did receive a call from the Foundation to invite me, as a friend of the Foundation, and to confirm my postal address, inquire if my husband would like to come, etc. Perhaps because I declined to join the banquet and also inquired if Mr Raina was invited, or perhaps because some "recognized" one declared me unfit for an imperial gathering, I did not receive the card. It did, nevertheless, become a fact that the Foundation became aware on the 24th that both the venue and the omission of Mr Raina's name in the guest-list remain contentious.
Meanwhile, following the reports of 23rd about the award ceremony Mr Raina (on suggestion of his children) invited professionals to join / arrange a party at his house on the occasion. I volunteered to be secretary and in that capacity wrote on 25th to invite the Prime Minister. In explanation of what would obviously have seemed an odd invitation, I set out the reasons for the venue in terms of Mr Raina's experience of the award, for my sending the invitation in terms of mine, and for it being addressed to him in terms of, besides him being chief guest at the other celebration, what I think the support of Indian Prime Minister to the award meant, together and separately, to global and Indian professional fraternity in view of GATS, etc.
On 26th my call to PMO was returned and I was told protocol did not permit the PM to attend a private party and I pointed out that also prevented him from attending the function at Humayun's Tomb. The point seemed to be somewhat conceded and I pressed further that my letter be read carefully by someone responsible to brief the Prime Minister so that no further embarrassment or humiliation occurs. Had I known then the list of honours, especially the project at the centre of it, I would have been far more insistent. At the centre of the list of honours is a project that I believe an Indian Prime Minister should not have joined in honouring - the restoration in Yemen of a 800 year old mosque "on the remains of a pre-Islamic shrine or temple on a site considered sacred since ancient times". I think this especially in view of the very persuasive criticism, with contemporary reference to Muslims and Kashmiri Pandits, of (civil society led) interpretation of secularism, and the fact that Mr Raina is a Kashmiri Pandit.
For once I am extremely glad of the currently mutual pre-occupation of the Left and BJP with each other, which has very fortunately kept the Aga Khan out of abominable politics of fuzzy secularism. Mr Advani in his speech at BJP National Executive Meeting at Ranchi accused communists, etc, of conspiring to destroy the Hindu ethos, to which CPI-M reacted in Politburo statement of 27th saying, "Notwithstanding Advani's claim that the BJP is a "chosen instrument of the divine", the record of the BJP as a pro-imperialist and pro-rich party is well established. Such a party can never aspire to represent Indian nationalism, or, defend national sovereignty. The Left and democratic forces are prepared to meet this new challenge to the secular democratic edifice in the country". (Afterwards, in a statement of 29th, CPI-M Politburo also disapproved of violation of secular principles by a minister who conducted a public religious ceremony in government office). Others might or might not be curious about how our laid-back poor Communists are managing to destroy anything or which rich and imperial entities is BJP pro. All I am curious about is if, in their opinion, the secular principle was violated and pro-rich pro-imperial disregard of national ethos reflected in Prime Minister's words, deeds and choices on 27th November 2004 and, if so, who all should be held responsible for / party to this under the Constitution of India.
In comparison with the meagre magic I had hoped might happen as a result of the phone call returned by PMO, the Prime Minister's speech seemed to me like a rap on my knuckles. He went beyond expressing privilege and honour about His Highness's decision to host his award in India to reverse cause and effect to appreciate "this gesture of support" since the "event puts our Capital city in a league with some of the great cities of the world, which have hosted these prestigious award ceremonies". Beyond expressing gratitude for the work in the gardens of Humayun's Tomb in implicit defence of His Highness's privilege to use it, perhaps in justification of the lavishness of it all, he spoke of our "embarrassment of riches" as something getting in the way of preserving our heritage for posterity. He mentioned the awarded projects in India as benefits of the support of His Highness and, though he named only four, he named the Indore slum project. And he even said, "every right-thinking citizen of the world bears a debt of gratitude" for His Highness's efforts.
While I was staring in baffled dismay at Prime Minister on DD-News, feeling like I was being scolded, Ms Smita Datta Makhija called to say security personnel had dutifully scolded her for wanting to enter Humayun's Tomb precinct (not party). She is a conservation architect (and was, incidentally, a classmate of Mr Raina at the School of Planning and Architecture in Delhi), who takes school children to monuments in an initiative she started six years ago as a parent with the school that her children attend and in which the next visit is to Humayun's Tomb on 30 November. She has well-placed clients and is regarded highly by MP from Walled City who was senior counsel in the Red Fort PIL in which she was one of the petitioners. Had she wished it she could have arranged an invitation to the party but did not and was turned away from a heritage site that she not only cherishes but endeavours to ensure that others cherish as well.
The "eminent" ones among her co-petitioners in the Red Fort matter, incidentally against the work started there by Mr Jagmohan who was then connecting it to the initiative at Humayun's Tomb to which he was party as Minister, have not demonstrated either for Red Fort or for Humayun's Tomb any such sentiment. In fact, one could be forgiven for confusing their shrilly expressed shallow affection for heritage for some tool-kit for personal business development, at times in disregard of present law in name of saving the past for the future. For consistency with the Aga Khan's worldview of their propensity to traverse from past to future on some by-pass around the present, it is reasonable to assume that his Network would have "recognized" them and invited them to his party.
The guest-list of a private party is unlikely to become public, but it would be interesting to know which Indians were at this imperial gathering, especially which Architect-cum-Planners - since those can serve the Aga Khan's efforts on both heritage and housing. It would be even more interesting to know which others aspired to the same imperial honour and which, if any, declined it or would have declined it, besides the ones that were at the very small and very special party at Mr Raina's place, details of which I will not divulge, for parity between parties, beyond the fact that PMO, the only place to which a formal invitation was extended, was not present in any form, not even a note, perhaps on account of protocol.
At Mr Raina's party I received a call about a demolition.
It seems that as His Highness's guests and security personnel arrived at Humayun's Tomb, bulldozers and police force had arrived at a settlement near Minto road. While concern and ideas for housing the poor were expressed and screened and telecast at an illegal party at a historical site, illegal Pushta-like demolition was going on - for a twin-tower for our municipal corporation, a project for which tenders had reportedly been advertised in Wall Street Journal last year but which might well need to be reviewed in light of the recent decision to split the corporation into smaller parts. While those who had chosen to be unembarrassed by riches and more settled down to a candle-light sit down banquet following a musical extravaganza, those forcibly unsettled by bulldozers made arrangements for the night with no choice but to be unembarrassed by lack of riches. On Sunday, when the city savoured the stuff of page-3 party-stories migrated to main pages by Prime Ministerial grace and mysterious-techie legitimacy of prestigious professional award, demolition near Minto Road resumed...
With this demolition, the National Common Minimum Programme, already quite comprehensively flouted in Delhi, was most graphically demolished - on half-anniversary of its adoption on 27 May, making the celebration at Humayun's Tomb also that of the betrayal of the mandate of the nation widely regarded as the world’s largest and most vibrant democracy.
At a personal level I am extremely grateful to His Highness. It was his award to the Indore slum project that had made me feel humiliated enough to change my life as a professional altogether and it is his award ceremony that has completed for me the circle of that humiliation. I do not, however, bear any debt of gratitude to him because he owes me an explanation about why I did not receive a card after having been very cordially invited, as friend of his Foundation, on phone on 24th. On larger questions of accountability he owes me nothing any more because it is no longer my responsibility to carry their burden, now that all of those with authority to raise them have forgiven him.
I also do honour His Highness - for his forthrightness and his capability, qualities that I greatly value. Unlike all the others in this chronicle, there is no doublespeak about what he says and does, he does what he likes, he does it openly and he does it in style. That is the way I aspire to be. Like a game of chess I have played my work of six years. In one swift pattern, that seems to hang around the Aga Khan whether or not it be his will, all my constitutional pieces seem reduced to pawns and all the pawns on the other side somehow elevated to queens. I salute the level of finesse (and him if and to whatever extent he is responsible for it) that has been attained in a game that I seem destined to lose.
For the rest, nearly none of what is in this chronicle is exceptional in itself. What I do take serious exception to is what is in effect a Prime Ministerial diktat to be unembarrassed by riches, to honour illegalities and inefficiencies in this endeavour, to be grateful for opportunities to be able to practice it, and to feel indebted to instruments of such opportunities.
Nothing in the Constitution of our sovereign nation either requires this of us or allows a Prime Minister to suggest it to us. By our Constitution we are entirely free to entirely disagree with this, free to express our disapproval, free to expect our authorities and our representatives to take note of our sentiment and address it to our satisfaction. And if our democracy falters for a moment in history, we are still free to feel not forced to relish that moment and free to hope that it will pass.
We are free till we are free - and that is why history had no choice. It is flagging 27th November 2004 for rare humiliation. Here, it has done it.
Gita Dewan Verma | Planner | 29.11.2004
[If and when I feel up to it I will add links to corroborate what I have said]