Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Ayodhya Verdict Exclusive: Mayawati Statue and Park at disputed site

In what is supposed to dislodge CWG from being the biggest talking point in the country, UP Govt. has brought decades old Ayodhya dispute to an end nobody had ever thought of. UP Govt. has decided to seize the disputed land and use it to build a huge park with statue of Chief Minister Ms. Mayawati.

Giving more details about the proposed Rs. 600 crore project, Chief Secretary Atul Gupta said that this project will quieten the critics who have accused the Govt of concentrating only on 'development' of Lucknow and neglecting other districts. In answer to a question that if this is going to be state policy for dealing with disputed properties from now onwards, he did not rule out the possibility of this, however he said Govt will wait for feedback of this move before finalizing it. (If this goes true we can have another mega Mayawati park in Varanasi where Gyanwapi mosque is disputed.)

As a sidenote Mr. Gupta informed that for building the park, Saryu river would be diverted and about 150 acres of residential area would have to be cleared. The people displaced will then be given jobs in UP's Monument Protection Force. When asked about hurting religious sentiments of Hindus and Muslims he said in UP everyone is supposed to worship the CM and her religious appeal goes beyond individual religions. (To this one journalist quipped that very soon BSP election rallies would resemble Kumbh mela or Eid prayers!)

Opposition parties were as usual divided on this issue. While BSP predictably was jubiliant, SP and BJP were sulking at the prospect of yet another poll debacle. Some leaders were overheard cursing their central leadership for not coming up with this master stroke when their party was in power in the state. This has lead to more infighting in BJP, now about whose statue would have been installed if BJP tried to do this.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari said statue of a living person is against Indian ethos. To which BSP leader Satish Chandra Mishra laughed and said "look who is talking", apparently taking a dig at party's Italian leadership. However Mr Tiwari was also heard telling his good friend and Congress MP Mr Sulesh Kalmadi that his party will try Commonwealth Games Organizing Committee to bid for the construction of the park.

Monday, September 20, 2010

8 things nobody told you about Pondicherry!

1) Pondicherry lies just about 150 km (146 km if you take ECR, 161 km if you take NH 45) from Chennai. So it doesn't need a genius to figure out that Pondicherry weather is absolutely same as that of Chennai: hot and very humid!

2) If you thought that Pondicherry is a small fishing town with a laid-back air and lots of French people milling around, sorry you may be in for a surprise. Remember that Pondicherry is capital of a union territory (named Pondicherry and having 4 areas: Pondicherry, Yanam, Mahe and Karaikal), so it is by no means a 'small city' and by no more means with a 'laid back air'! Parts of Pondicherry are reminiscent of its French association but they form a very small part of the town. Yes, the streets in this part are named in French but they have their Indian versions as well and autowala won't know either of them! But frankly this part is so small and so well laid out that you can easily roam around onfoot with a map and reach anywhere from anywhere.

3) Autos are costly. Period. The minimum auto fare is Rs. 40. Try shared autos if you can. If you think you can drive your way around you can get two-wheelers on rent. I can't tell you the street name because I forgot to note that.

4) Aurobindo Ashram is NOT a tourist destination. It is what it says, an Ashram. Go only if you know anything about Maharshi Aurobindo and his teachings. And yes, the ashram dining hall serves only the Ashram guests (don't go there expecting to have a sumptuous breakfast!)

5) Auroville is a great place to visit when in Pondicherry. You get many local busses supposedly going to Auroville but will drop you on the road at a point which is about 8 km from the Matrimandir. You will need to take an auto which will charge Rs. 120 (yes for 8 km!). You can roam around in the Matrimandir campus and shop only if you have deep pockets! Auroville products are supposedly handmade and organic and hence cost a bomb.

6) Shopping in rest of Pondicherry is a great experience. Due to low taxes, things like handicrafts, leather goods (HIDESIGN is Pondicherry based brand!) and textiles are fairly cheap. I recommend a shop named 'Splendour' near the secretariat building for handicrafts. Nehru Road and Mission Road are other shopping destinations.

7) Promenade street is good for roaming around but the adjoining beach (named Serenity or Rocky beach) is not the beach you would like to be at. For that head to Paradise beach, about 8 km from bus stop (where my hotel was!). A 3km boat ride in the Pichavaram backwaters will lead you to Paradise beach which is actually VERY clean and very scenic. Auro beach is another beach where people flock to swim and bathe in the sea.

8) Last but not the least, rather very important, travelling to and from Pondicherry. 'To' part is rather easy. You can get loads of state run buses from CMBT (Chennai Mofussil Bus Terminus), Koyembedu and choose to go by ECR or NH45. Both the roads are extremely good and journey is a breeze. Returning is what makes this point so special! From Pondicherry bus stand, the buses going to Chennai are at particular time slots and you need to take a token for a particular bus. And it can be extremely crowded at the bus stand so don't say you weren't warned!

Go and give time a break in Pondicherry!

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Seven Step Sisters?

So if Army gives in to political pressure, the much debated (and rightly criticized) Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) may be lifted from some areas of Kashmir 'where militancy has gone down'. I don't want to go in a debate about AFSPA. On one hand Army claims that it needs such a law to fight militancy and on the other there have been very serious charges of rape and killings against not only Army but some of the para-military forces as well.

I think I can predict how it will pan out. PM and Congress will say
it is sensitive to the people of Kashmir and this is a step in right direction. BJP will criticize Government and say it is appeasing
separatists. Omar Abdullah will thank PM and say 'let us give peace a chance'. PDP will criticize Govt. and say this is a half step and it is not acceptable to people of Kashmir till other demands are met. (I think in PDP's opinion only thing acceptable to Kashmiris is making Mahbooba Mufti the CM). Separatists will say something or the other depending on which faction of Hurriyat they belong to!

But does any one care how will the citizens of India's North Eastern states react to this? For those who don't know, people
across the North Eastern states have been protesting against AFSPA since decades. Mostly the protests have been peaceful. Irom Sharmila who has been protesting since a decade has become a face of protest against this law and so are those Manipuri rape victim women who have protested nude outside Assam Rifles camp.

So shall we now go and tell Irom Sharmila that her 10 years long protest is useless because it was not accompanied by violent and continual stone pelting by her people? Shall we tell those women that their modesty is lesser than their Kashmiri counterparts (and I am not even talking of Shopian where people kept on insisting that two women whose bodies were found in a river, were raped by Army, despite repeated investigations which proved otherwise). Shall we tell the citizens that unless they pelt stones on security forces they won't even be considered seriously even for talks?

I am not against repeal of AFSPA from Kashmir. I am against unequal treatment which always favors Kashmiris.

How much ever they may be pelting stones on police, Kashmiri youth still flocks for Police jobs. They may rebuke PM grandly that they need independence and not education or jobs but how many of them leave an opportunity to get a Govt. job. They may question India's democracy but conveniently forget that their 'leaders' who live in posh colonies of Srinagar are given security by Indian Govt. only and that if they are able to voice their opinion freely it is because of India's democracy only. I am not saying that everything is hunky-dory with Kashmiris but I believe that they behave like the spoilt brat who gets bigger pie of everything as compared to his seedha-sadha sibling.

It's time Central Govt. considers North Eastern states as integral part of India and its people equal citizens of country, apart from when talking to China.