The BJP A team has a very accurate profile of who it sees as its adversaries. It is aware of what triggers off this set of people and institutions, sends them into a tailspin of emotions and drains their energy. And it has a ready rack of public issues to let loose every few months to agitate its adversaries and keep them stressed. Public issues in India have been reduced to the drama between these two sides. And real issues and those engaged with them are loosing out. These two entities should get a room and leave the rest of us in peace.

CAA does not have anything much objectionable. Providing relief to distressed Hindu families in the region should not or cannot invite critique. Should Rohingya’s or Bangladeshi Muslims also be extended a similar privilege? I think no. Does that qualify as bigotry? I think no. There are genuine issues around Muslim immigrants and those cannot be overlooked in the pursuit of some unreal appearance of being egalitarian and universal brotherhood. Creating a controversy around CAA could lead to a loss of credibility for those who agitate.

As far as NRC goes there is little chance that any government will be able to implement it for such a large country. Logistics apart, more fundamentally what is this fear that this will be an instrument for disenfranchising Indian Muslims from their citizenship? How is that even going to be possible? Why keep falling for the same formula ridden bait? Indian Muslims (and these very atypical members of an urban intelligentsia) have some serious inward looking to do and should spend the current times as a wonderful once in a lifetime opportunity to carry out internal reform rather than needlessly suffer the current dispensation.

There can surely be no argument against creating a citizens registry from the point of view of identifying illegal immigrants. I am happy to have a boundary less world but till that happens lets just live within the rules.

And before we have love for illegal immigrants lets give some thought on how immigrants willing to work for low wages can distort the labour market and create not so much love for the millions who are unemployed or poorly paid already. I am not sure what the process is for allowing immigration of highly qualified individuals from the region and potential job creators. But surely we are not seeing many of them come over. And in a situation to choose between employing an Indian and a Bangladeshi Muslim what should one do?

Is all this a build up a Nazi Germany kind of an era? Look what they have done in a Kashmir? Who knows, but I do know that you need some amount of discipline and homogeneity in your populace to achieve the same. Indians are notoriously undisciplined and unreliable. Look at how they nod when asked for a yes or no. The world struggles with deciphering the response. They may say yes and then go no or say no and go yes. Not like the Germans who will stand in a straight line when ordered. Here no body gives a shit about the other. Everyone has a direct link with Krishna.

The protests against CAA and NRC have only helped BJP further in its plans. Since 2014 they have enjoyed creating the caricature of dumb, bungling and bumbling liberals who are just an inflated bag of emotions with little intelligence. The hashtags #libtards and #sickular captures those profiles well. The current protests provide fodder to those hashtags. Not having protested would have had the opposite effect and ended up stressing out the BJP A team.

These protests do not even demonstrate that democracy is alive and kicking in India and the protesters represent an active and alert citizenry ready to step in whenever democracy is under threat. People are clueless about half a dozen serious issues to agitate about or supporting those struggling with those issues. Guided by media headlines and social media (all carefully calibrated by the BJP team) they are sheep shepherded for slaughter.

I remember how disinterested I was when the India Against Corruption movement saw participation in large numbers. Disbelief was my dominant emotion, that people could be so stupid as to believe that corruption could be tackled with such campaigns and by instituting a Jan Lokpal. I blogged about it then here. Much later it got evident that the IAC protests were funded by BJP as a pre – 2014 campaign plan to weaken the Congress.

It is the same team which has run many a similar campaign since then which draws the crowds either with them or against them but at all times as putty in their hands. They know how to have their cake and eat it to and that makes me envious.

Ganpati Bappa Morya and Mumbai monsoon mayhem – points further to television debates today

I was not inclined to join the ET Now debate at 9pm but eventually did. Below is the link

Some points I can now elaborate on, which is not possible in a 30 minute slot.

Point 1

Sujay Kantawala’s, suggestion that citizen experts and community workers be on various government panels is way too long overdue. I would say that to supplement that, what we need more importantly is for citizens to participate in their local politics, their elected representatives need to be petitioned, the ward annual budgets and works need to be supervised and taken interest in. None of that happens. For decades now I have been left holding to alone and applying one of my favourite words “Eternal vigilance is the price we pay for freedom” No such fascination among peers and fellow citizens. This requires wisdom on which I have elaborated in Point 2.

All of this was well piloted since the time AGNI came into existence 20 years ago but with the advent of social media and the digital age, face to face connect has disappeared or taken a backseat compared to what people do on Facebook.

Another point to add is that some of us who have been at this city improvement path for a very long time have been let down by the very citizens and society in whose interest we speak. By now there should have been support from the public for me and so many others to be in politics and have some leverage in the decision making process rather than just spout wisdom on television debates.

I entered politics a decade back contesting the Lok Sabha 2009 election but left it at that seeing the amount of energy and effort and the inability to raise financial resources to support this endeavour through honest means. Other city residents could have stepped in to provide necessary support for an office, staff, travel and the usual. But nothing. You cannot have the kind of ridiculous bad quality elected representatives that we have and expect to “deserve” anything better.

Point 2

For this point I will be unpopular but has to be said. The city does not show a fraction of the enthusiasm for civic affairs and those who champion for them that it shows for the Ganesh Utsav. It is an insight which really sustains the current state of affairs.

People will purchase a new lifeless idol every year and fall in love with it and get cute and cuddly and prayer to it but will not have an iota of interest in a living city and some of us living beings who are working at keeping and improving life in that city. It got tiring long back, now I feel exhausted. A prisoner of my own device.

Over 20 years of my close involvement with Mumbai issues I have seen people pray to that lifeless idol and get rewarded with Green Cards and lifestyle and move to enjoy more well managed and aesthetic cities and I have spent the better years of my life and still do (though much less now) on its issues. Essential India to understand. #beinghindu

If there was indeed wisdom spouting from Ganpati then that wisdom would have seen his devotees learning from the 2005 floods and many more such events and move to better and better management. If there was wisdom we would not have seen such a terribly insecure and guarded Devendra Fadnavis (after a full majority) but a more confident and courageous CM convening people across party and support lines to come together in making Mumbai a well managed city.

People do not have a Ganpati Utsav in a London or a Singapore and Shanghai and Paris and possibly that’s why those cities are wiser in their management. And it is the Ganpati devotees who go all out to enjoy and devour these cities. They pray that they get wealth or jobs, which will take them away from the drab aesthetics and bad management of this city (and many more in this country) to greener pastures in the Christian world of Europe and America.

For me this is a god who does not deliver well on any of those promised qualities that are suggested and is a failure. The Brahmins need to take note and correct the defects in their product. Yes he works wonders at the individual level and has rewarded handsomely the very political class and terribly selfish middle class over the past 30-40 years of my life and observing the whole game but then that is the same political class in partnership with the the none so wise middle class, which has made the city what it is.

Wisdom would have meant that there would be a clear realisation that Metro and coast road will not solve traffic congestion. But it seems it is this very god who has removed all the obstacles to unwise and folly ridden projects with not so honest intentions, which are disguised in not so intelligent positions.

I am happy being me and the celebration class is happy being them and it seems the twain shall never meet.

Point 3

I already answered to Shaina’s point about coast road and Metro but to add to it I must say that this government has been disappointing for its levels of insecurity and pettiness. The time really is to collaborate but this has been a government in a huddle not wanting to let in anybody it is uncomfortable with.

In no single coming together of people is there complete agreement, there are fights in families, disagreements in office projects but through all of this people realise that the only way to achieve anything is through collaboration. And so I would like to invite her for a discussion off panel discussions, to put heads together to work on numerous avenues available where there is no clash in positions.

Through a tweet I am marking the post to Tamanna Inamdar, Senior Editor at ET Now and the host, Sujay Kantawala and Shaina NC.

The crowd funding of Karan Johar and Amitabh Bachchan

This is not a new retort of mine except that after having said it the nth time around I thought this should be recorded.

I was at an evening event at the US Consulate where over the course of discussions I met this lady who wanted to know what I did and on learning of my involvement with environmental activism was very appreciative and grateful that somebody in the city does this. It was maybe a first instance for her that at a networking event she had met somebody with such a vocation. She was a businesswoman running two successful businesses.

The conversation proceed further which is when the discussion came to where it usually does in such conversations. She wanted to know how such activities sustain themselves.

I told her how doing activism is a difficult path. About how I had over the past few years significantly reduced my participation for want of resources and was focusing more on my personal needs and profession.

About how one hopes and relies that the citizens at large all of whom benefit from activism – whether saving the mangrove forests or improving the walking infrastructure of the city – would at sometime respond with volunteering their time or giving small donations to sustain expenses. And then I added about how the public are so singularly disappointing in extending any support.

And bang as could be predicted came the standard grouse that one never knows how the money will be used and it is difficult to trust NGOs.

I gave her the analogy of Bollywood and how the same people never demand their money back if a movie from the Bollywood stable turns out to be an utter waste of their time and money. That their money value has been completely destroyed (and time value) is not as much a matter of concern to people as giving money to an NGO. I gave the example of Walking Project where the most nominal amount of Rs. 365 is an annual individual membership. It translates to Rupees one a day, something the poorest can also subscribe to.

But in one year to the Project we are still not able to get memberships in this bracket. Whereas people spend any multiple of that amount on multiplex, on movie tickets and all other associated expenditures. Yes, I understand that people want to be happy and entertained and our willing to be pay for it but does not something like a Walking Project not bring any value to their life and should they not have any interest in making even a small contribution?

Is there no happiness in enjoying a great walking environment in your city? And will you not do even a little bit to support a group of people who get on with it? Much as you would support Karan and Amitabh to entertain you (which can be of quite dubious quality a number of times)

Millions of people are more than willing to make their contributions from Rs. 50 to 500 towards supporting Karan Johar and Amitabh Bachchan, which is what sustains their ventures. These gentlemen do not put money from their pockets, which can end up being the case a lot of times in NGO work.

It is this large hearted public support which enables Mr. Johar and Mr. Bachchan to add to their stables of bungalows and cars, while Walking Project or mangroves with which I have been associated for more than a decade cannot even afford a full time project manager and a peon.

I think the example struck a very strong chord and the lady immediately realised what she had been doing with her money all along and Walking Project got a small donation.

She did not know me from before the evening and so was justified in her skepticism but this entry is not about her, it is about the abject lack of community service and philanthropy in the Indian middle class. It is about how they can and do crowd fund Bollywood and hundreds of similar activities but will not support community activities.

There must be 10,000 people who know me personally or my work in the past decade and no one (very few exceptions) has every bothered to engage in a kind gesture. Lokhandwala Complex where I have been housed for the past two decades presents a desolate dreary desert for any such goodwill. It is a complex  of the wealthy and few of them who commit actually make a donation, not to speak about those who skillfully evade any such discussion.

The 300 acres of mangroves here (which were completely responsible for saving the complex from the flood of 2005) of which a 100 acres I was clearly able to save in the first half of the last decade , the saving of the Lokhandwala Lake in 1999 by and me and numerous other activities are clearly not as valuable as what Mr. Johar and Bachchan have to offer and need to be continuously justified.

Notes from the East

I went on my first visit to Singapore, Hong Kong and a bit of China as a trip from work to study their rail based transport systems. While the trip was on transport and technical in nature it was not very difficult for me to make numerous small and big observations about how those societies conduct themselves, which in turn has a bearing on everything they manage from their transport to their sewage and their children and elderly and infirm. The views contained here are strictly in personal capacity. I will mostly comment on Singapore and Hong Kong.

One of the conclusions which I shared with my close friend and transport aficionado, Abhijit in the first two days at Singapore was that Mumbai or most Indian cities will never ever come anywhere close to being able to have such an excellent integrated transport policy in the next two decades. These next two decades are the ones about, in which India is supposed to have become fifty percent urbanised.

Abhijit and me have a long standing argument, where I have a deep dislike of fundamental Indian ways of being and culture and social values and hold it primarily responsible for the mess in governance that we constantly find ourselves. Abhijit on the other hand chides me and reminds me that people are the same all over the world and it is not that Londoners or NY-ers or Singaporeans are any different. I could see the same argument brew up within me in the two cities.

Another strong remark I found myself making was that we are a nation of obedient sons and daughters and 33 crore gods – all of them basically incapable of showing the spine and principles and values necessary to participate in causing any change.

I couldn’t help drawing parallels between Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore and Bal Thackeray in Mumbai. In both cases there was a great case made for ascending to power to make the condition of a particular community or geography better and in both cases the  strong individual or a group of individuals did come to power to make a difference to the cause they espoused. Bal Thackeray and what he achieved in Mumbai or Maharashtra is a story seen in almost every direction of India, from a Chennai to a Kolkata to Bangalore and Gurgaon. There maybe a lot of parochial jingoism but when it comes to bullshit the so called country of India is clearly very united.

In 1995 Bal Thackeray came to power on the great cause of making a difference to the Marathi manoos and delivering Mumbai and Maharashtra from the corrupt Congress. Shiv Sena came in power in the State and the city. By 2000, when the first term of Shiv Sena came to an end for the first time in its history the Municipal Corporation of Mumbai went into the red up to Rs. 300 crores. There was a scam after scam after scam, not the least infamous of which was the slum housing scam which created a carte blanche for developers close to the Thackeray family to go on a loot of Mumbai’s land resources in the name of doing good for the poor.

Most developers were not even Marathi manoos, ironically being from the Gujarati community against which traditionally a lot of hate has been generated. The Marathi manoos found itself being given some lousy zhunka bhakar stalls and soon enough a change in the clause of one of the development control regulations which threw out and continues to throw out Marathi manoos from the mill land belt.

The first term of the Shiv Sena in Mumbai was also a reign of the kind of terror and hatred that the multi-cultural and plural city had never ever seen in its history till then. The legendary boys of Shiv Sena controlled every street and corner, almost creating an autocratic state which had its men ready at every stage to pounce on anyone who went against their thinking or objectives. Had the objectives been good it would have still been justified. Most of these boys were available for as less as a crate of beer to cause trouble for whoever the sponsor chose to trouble.

The bosses of the boys of course got their hands into every conceivable trade mostly through force and extortion. The city then took a cultural blow it still has clearly not recovered from and the first decade of the 21st century saw a rise of dozen new urban centres, which effectively means that fate of Mumbai in many ways may already have been sealed from that regression into backwardness.

It was to counter the threat of Muslim radicalism (the legacy of Indian National Congress to ‘independent’ India) in the early nineties that the Shiv Sena and L K Advani and Vishwa Hindu Parishad rose to power. One would have thought that the Hindus would have been beneficiaries and especially so the lower socio-economic brackets of the Maharashtrian community. None of this happened. Bal Thackeray likes to be addressed as Hindu hriday samrat or the most beloved for the Hindus. Ask the number of Hindus he and his boys have terrorised. With half a dozen gods devoted to bravery and courage and especially for the Marathi community which is particularly well seeped in Hindu rituals and ceremonies, neither Marathi’s or any other Hindu could rise to counter the loot and pillage of Bal Thackeray. And to ask any of the frontline or backline 33 crore gods to intervene would be to ask too much of them. They are used to sitting back and being anointed.

Mumbai during that reign saw a devastating new encouragement to slums coming up, it saw a perverse housing policy which further strangulated the supply of affordable housing and the rise of venal developers, it saw corruption and mal governance in every arena of urban management during that era. Subsequently with the State government going out of their hands the reign of terror got subsided a bit but clearly the city had entered a new paradigm of being mis governed.

When I spent my first two days in Singapore I could but not enjoy the pleasures of today without wanting to read more and more about the people who make it happen today and the people who first set the base for all this to happen. My good friend Sudipt Sen has been a very long standing admirer of Lee Kuan Yew and has at many occasions over the past decade asked me to visit Singapore or read further about it.

On acquiring power Yew spent huge amount of effort in uplifting the education and social upliftment of the people. Large amount of affordable housing stock was created and people living in slums moved into good apartments with toilets and good sanitation. The transport infrastructure was improved by an order of magnitude and an incredible atmosphere was provided for business to flourish creating much needed jobs and income for the people and revenue for the government.

Two days spent in Singapore sent me into a depression about the state of Mumbai and from what I hear from Sudipt and other friends likewise has been the case with them in their first visit. Sudipt first visited Singapore in 1998 and then itself the city was world class, which means that starting from independence in 1965, within a decade Lee Kuan Yew was able to set Singapore into the right orbit for it to be world class in less than 3 decades.

Where Singapore prides itself at being multi-cultural, Thackeray’s boys were attacking people who did not display Marathi signage on their shops, or anybody who did the mistake of addressing the city as Bombay or even so much as hinted displeasure with the Thackeray clan. All significant infrastructure was named after Shivaji or some Thackeray clan member. Business started relocating from the city and people felt they could lead better lives in the other emerging cities.

Yes, there are allegations and maybe material evidence of excesses by Lee Kuan Yew and his family members or a close coterie. Maybe they own important businesses and infrastructure utilities. But even a blind person could just by smelling the air make out a difference between the service delivery.  Similar was the advantage and scope available to the Thackeray clan and they clearly have amassed very large amounts of wealth from establishing their fiefdom over Mumbai. But what has their contribution been to the community or the city? Go look at the state of education in the municipal schooling system.

I find myself questioning and faulting the core principles and values of Hindus and Hinduism (or the notions we have of the same) and find them responsible for the state of affairs we see in India. The complete axis between Singapore and Tokyo finds itself in the heavy influence of Buddhist and Confucian values and maybe some where those values have something more superior to offer to their people in how to conduct than those provided in Hinduism.

Look at the level of detail and commitment in concern for human life and comfort that you find in Singapore and in Hong Kong. Look a the incredible commitment to natural resources. Singapore is incredible in its commitment to conserving water, from the taps and WC in the hotel where I was staying to public toilets and other places, conserving water in every use, being reminded of its preciousness and being made a partner in its conservation were an integral part. A culture where people offer water to the sun in the mornings and to the shivling a million times and do kumbh melas and sprinkle ganga jal at every ritual, one would have thought Hindus would be the best people for water conservation? Clearly there is a difference in how some of us look at values and how these very devout Kedarnath and Tirupati thronging Hindus see them as.

Look at the quality of water in their seas and rivers. Look at Hong Kong, which has preserved two thirds of its natural resources for recreation.  Look at the difficult terrain and limited land mass in which they are built. One would think that people who invented the zero and because of whom NASA missions don’t land up in the oceans could do a better job of their cities?

In Mumbai, the deluge of 2005, instead of becoming an inflection point in the life of Mithi River become just another means for a contractor driven lobby of politicians and bureaucrats to make the most of the situation. The river till today runs its polluted course. Where is the Ganga worship and the values?

Look at the sincerity and integrity that is visible in day to day dealings in these cities, at the way the government and agencies understand their relationship to their constituents – the citizens. Service level benchmarks are set for each constituent of urban existence and there is an attempt to improve them continuously. Thus a resident of those cities and cultures see multiple improvements to their lifestyles in a lifetime, whereas in India a person feels good if he sees just one good change in his entire life time.

And these are beef and pork eaters. How could they possibly be humble and quiet and disciplined and have so much empathy?  Holy Hindus and other constituents from this landmass who don’t even kill bacteria coming out from their breath can at most times be vicious and a rage. Violence to the mind and soul are a norm. While the beef and pork eaters ensure that even if casualties take place on their mass transit systems they are always in single digits, the vegetarians see the slaughter of almost 4000 commuters every year in Mumbai on the suburban railways system and are unperturbed.

Double standards and hypocrisy are institutionalised in the land of Hindus and Hinduism. The family is the only good institution which exists in India and that too is a vehicle only for producing obedient sons and daughters who will study as per family diktat, pick up careers as per family diktat, as far as possible migrate to a land mass governed by white man and certainly not get married outside the family choice and so on and so forth. This clearly has meant that we have citizens who have lost all interest or initiative in having an independent voice or action in matters of common good. Let the family or the patriarch decide what should be done – why bother. The same mindset at the family level is visible at the governance level. Any average patriarch in India (including my deceased father) and Bal Thackeray or any other leaders around the country would show strikingly similar behaviour and expectations.

And this is why I was the earliest and one of the strongest critics of the form and shape of the anti-corruption movement carried out in India last year. Corruption was made as the biggest hurdle to India’s growth. No corruption is not the biggest issue for India. It is the most visible malaise, the cause is far different and no body wants to address the root cause. This is a land where even the gods are seeing a decline in values and are prone to corruption.

All through my trip I couldn’t help think that Gautam Buddha almost 2500 years back had got fed up of Hinduism and the people who were running it and so many years down the line the situation seems almost same.

What really is wrong with Hindus? Where really are the principles and values and the Vedas and Upanishads and Geeta? And how are they able to get away with so many bogus claims they make to themselves and to the world about themselves? And then to mask it all with Incredible India campaigns does make me feel very very sick.


A friend coming from abroad after long got into discussing how embarrassed he was with the CWG shame. I had to cut him in between showing my absolute disinterest in discussing the matter and wasting my blood.

I would have thought that the CWG shame and embarrassment would have brought sections of civil society, youth, ‘well wishers’ etc. of the country on to the streets – there would have been riots and an indication of that elusive change. There would have been some public display of the disgust.

But Incredible India and its wonderful people never fail to surprise. I am also becoming an observer now. Not worth it to expend efforts for such a comfortable lot of people. I would have done something in more idealistic and foolish times.

Series of articles on India and Climate Change

Articles from EPW – Aug1, 2009 –

Climate Change: India’s Options

India and Climate Change: Some International Dimensions

Climate Change: Challenges Facing India’s Poor

Keeping India’s Economic Engine Going: Climate Change and the Urbanisation Question

India and a Carbon Deal

Climate Change and the Energy Challenge: A Pragmatic Approach for India

Joining politics

While I have since a decade been sure that politics is where the solutions lie, the past 20 days have been the ones where I have really gone beyond thoughts and peripheral participation. Earlier this year I was involved with the Loksatta Andolan Mumbai Chapter which I sought to get decisively political. Since 2 months I had the thoughts of forming a new party or joining the Congress or BJP in mind and then Nov.26th has happened and created a flurry.

But whomsover I have been in touch with, the one position I have been taking is that I want to disengage from Nov26 as a focal point for getting into politics.

I am keenly interested in standing for the coming Assembly or Lok Sabha elections from my constituency and the next few days will decide where I am headed.