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Whose city is Ahmedabad anyway? Of people or politicians?

Monday, 14 January 2013 - 7:22pm IST | Place: Ahmedabad | Agency: dna

We need to institutionalise the decision-making process so that it does not remain at the helm of one individual’s perception and predicaments, but evolves through collective consensus and under a larger vision.

The two ends of the Nehru Bridge are marked by two of Ahmedabad’s most popular icons. While the eastern or old city end of the bridge is marked by Sidi Saiyad’s mosque, whose jaalis have been overwhelmingly identified as the symbol of the city, the western end – the newer side - has Patang, the revolving restaurant, arguably the symbol of the modern city.  None have been formally crowned so, nor have been thrusted upon by authority as such. Both have been independent of political interference and have earned their status, as city symbols, through their natural bond and associated values with citizens over time.

This is important to recall because the same bridge-end near Rupalee has iconic ghosts as prodigy of the politics. In front of the cinema hall, there is a pair of sculptures, of two standing figures with one pointing finger, perhaps. These are conjectures by playing Sherlock Holmes, as these have been wrapped behind ugly cloth and plastic wrapping with bands of ropes holding the cover-up. Standing as mysterious ghosts, they have remained masked for nearly six years. The real issue is not so much about what or whose sculptures are these. The important question is: Why for such a long time they remain unveiled? This may either have to do with politics - that it may have been commissioned by a regime in power then and not holding the seat when actually realised. The next regime may not want to unveil them because it did not commission them and/or they may be of personalities that may relate to the opposition. In either case, people are reduced to insignificant pawns and the city is a loser.

Does democracy mean idiosyncrasies of the elected? If it is for, by, of the people, why are people not involved in decision-making? Why it is that city artefact is decided by a few individuals under the disguise of people’s mandate? If it was an outcome of people’s mandate, why is it that it is blocked by the new regime? And in case if it did not echo the collective sentiment of the society, then why is it there? What gives anyone the right to spend public money on personal agenda? Why are people and the city held ransom to political vendetta? How is it that people are so paralysed, that they dare not unveil these masked mysteries themselves, or if unacceptable, dislodge them?

People did show such courage in the past when the flyover ready to operate for a good time was denied its use for months, simply awaiting the visit of the regime’s chosen leader to inaugurate. Feeling the brunt, people removed the blockade in the cover of darkness and self-inaugurated the same and the city promptly started using it. The bridge lost no dignity; in fact, it was aptly inaugurated by its citizens and found people’s blessing through the convenience of the newly created bridge. Can the city’s issues be common issues to all, independent of parties or politics? Can such issues be left to the appointed group of truly representative citizens rather than elected transients? Switzerland is an example in case. Here, elected members can be recalled by people. The parliament’s resolutions can be stalled or reversed through signature campaigns and referendums. An appointed committee of leading citizens from diverse yet related fields gets empowered to decide on certain national issues. For example, themes and subject matters for currency notes for a certain period of time. After which, it would be replaced by another theme as prescribed by the committee then for a certain duration, and so on. No wonder, the Swiss ten franc currency note is dedicated to Swiss-born architectural legend Le Corbusier, with his picture on one side and – surprisingly – the secretariat building at Chandigarh, an important creation of his, on the other.

Can citizens charter issues related to public art, naming of places and streets, prioritising its history and defining its heritage, etc, independent of party politics? How can a person in power put self-statues at public places with public money and thrust personal heirloom as public heritage? Is it not strange that most structures from the past and from civilized societies abroad carry information and appreciation of its creators, time and team members? It is here in India that plaques bear the names of stray individuals, who inaugurated and have even remotely nothing to do with the creation.

We seem to have lost track of the true meaning of democracy. We need to institutionalise the decision-making process so that it does not remain at the helm of one individual’s perception and predicaments, but evolves through collective consensus and under a larger vision.

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