Editorial in Indian Express
A Gujarati’s piece of mind to the Big B
AMITABH Bachchan seems to have stepped on his own foot. The Bollywood legend’s decision to become the brand ambassador of Narendra Modi’s Gujarat has drawn flak from different quarters.
And now danseuse and social activist Mallika Sarabhai has sent a letter (full text on right) to Bachchan, asking him what prompted him to become the brand ambassador of a state which is reeling under poverty and has witnessed the killings of innocent Muslims.
In her letter, Sarabhai has reeled off statistics to show the state Gujarat is in today.
Sarabhai claimed that the state has a huge debt of close to Rs 1 lakh crore.
She also stated that over 75,000 small and medium businesses have shut shop while the state went into an overdrive to dole out subsidies to rich industrial houses.
Sarabhai’s words found an echo in social activist Teesta Setalvad.
“ Bachchan is not the brand ambassador of Gujarat. He is the brand ambassador for Modi who gave his film Paa tax concessions to the tune of Rs 8- 10 crore,” Setalvad said.
She claimed that Modi is trying to go in for an image makeover after the Supreme Court directed investigation agencies to question him for mass murder.
“That needs to be put on the forefront, not wiped under the carpet. It is good that Mallika has brought out these statistics about Gujarat. It is the ground reality,” she said.
A letter to Amitabh Bachchan from Mallika Sarabhai
My dear Bachchanji, Greetings from a Gujarati
YOU are indeed a fine actor.
You are an intelligent man and a shrewd businessman.
But should I believe in your endorsements? Let’s take a brief look at what you proclaim you believe in ( albeit for huge sums of money). BPL, ICICI, Parker and Luxor pens, Maruti Versa, Cadbury’s chocolates, Nerolac paints, Dabur, Emami, Eveready, Sahara City Homes, D’damas, Binani Cement and Reliance. And now Gujarat.
I wonder how you decide what to endorse. Is your house built with Binani Cement? Do you really like Cadbury’s chocolates or do you have to resort to Dabur’s hajmola ( whose efficacy you have earlier checked) after eating them? And having endorsed two pens, one very upmarket and one rather down, which one do you use? Have you, except perhaps for the shooting of the ad, ever driven or been driven in a Versa? Do you know whether the Nerolac paint in your home ( you do use it don’t you?) has lead in it that can poison you slowly as it does so many people? Or are the decisions entirely monetary? It has been reported that no direct fee will be paid to you for being my Brand Ambassador.
So, with no monetary decision to guide you, how did you decide to say yes? Did you check on the state of the State? I doubt it, for the decision and the announcement came from one single meeting. And I somehow doubt that you have been following the news on Gujarat closely.
So, as a Gujarati, permit me to introduce my State to you.
Everyone knows of our vibrancy, of the billions and trillions pouring into our State through the two yearly jamborees called Vibrant Gujarat. But did you know that by the government’s own admission no more than 23 per cent of these have actually moved beyond the MOU stage? That while huge subsidies are being granted to our richest business houses, over 75,000 small and medium businesses have shut down rendering one million more people jobless.
You know of Gujarat’s fastpaced growth and the FDI pouring in, you have no doubt seen pictures of the czars of the business world lining up to pour money to develop us. To develop whom? Did you know that our poor are getting poorer? That while the all- India reduction in poverty between 1993 and 2005 is 8.5 per cent, in Gujarat it is a mere 2.8 per cent? That we have entire farmer families committing suicide, not just the male head of the household? You have heard of how some mealy mouthed NGO types have been blocking the progress of the Narmada project, how the government has prevailed, and water is pouring down every thirsty mouth and every bit of thirsty land. But did you know that in the 49 years since it was started, and in spite of the Rs 29,000 crore spent on it, only 29 per cent of the work is complete? That the construction is so poor ( lots of sand added to the you know which cement) that over the last nine years there have been 308 breaches, ruining lakhs of farmers whose fields were flooded, ruining the poorest salt farmers whose salt was washed away? That whereas in 1999, 4,743 of Gujarat’s villages were without drinking water, within two years that figure had gone up to 11,390 villages? ( I cannot even begin to project those figures for today — but do know that the figure has gone up dramatically rather than down).
With our CM, hailed as the CEO of Gujarat, we have once again achieved number one status — in indebtedness.
In 2001, the state debt was Rs 14,000 crore. This was before the State became a multinational company.
Today it stands at Rs 1, 05,000 crore. And to service this debt we pay a whopping Rs 7,000 crore a year, 25 per cent of our annual budget.
Meanwhile, our spending on education is down, no new public hospitals for the poor are being built, fishermen are going a begging as the seas turn turgid with effluents, more mothers die at birth per thousand than in the rest of India, and our general performance on the Human Development Index is nearly the first — from the bottom.
One rape a day, 17 cases of violence against women, and, over the last 10 years, 8,802 suicides and 18,152 “ accidental” deaths of women have been officially reported. You can imagine the real figures.
You have said that you are our ambassador because we have Somnath and Gandhi.
Somnath was built for the people. Gandhiji was a man of the people. Do the people of this State matter to you? If they do, perhaps your decision will be different. I hope you will read this letter and decide."
Source: Mail Today, New Delhi
An Editorial from Indian Express
Feb 20, 2010
Cities are where strangers meet. But in Ahmedabad, a town which is yet to recover from the intense trauma of the 2002 communal riots, both Hindus and Muslims still perceive each other purely through a lens of fear and insecurity. The municipal corporation randomly picked some 8,000 families to resettle them along the Sabarmati Riverfront project — a list that naturally included Hindus and Muslims, and placed them in proximity to each other. There was no deliberate social engineering element to this exercise, but both communities protested and demanded to be kept separate because they felt this situation would leave them defenceless in the event of communal violence.
Ahmedabad is notable for its lack of civic mixing. Generally speaking, associational forms of civic engagement (through trade unions, business associations, non-communal cadre-based parties) blunt religious tension and prevent it from spiralling into violence.
As political scientist Ashutosh Varshney has pointed out, in 1969, the town witnessed one of the worst riots India had seen, but unlike in 2002 state machinery was not perceived as complicit. Cities of stark partitions are always vulnerable to communal conflagration — making them highly dependent on the police and administration to make sure the sparks are doused in time. In this case, the fact that representatives of both communities insist on fresh allotment, and intend petitioning the courts to undo this decision, goes to prove how little faith they repose in the state’s capacity to deal with incidents, or in each other. This nervous and dysfunctional dynamic means that citizens possess a true sense of trust and security only when they live among neighbours of their own community. Obviously, this kind of set-up would only sharpen existing fissures, and create an even more destructive, mutually suspicious climate.
If the state accedes to this demand, it would be a clear admission of its own failure in keeping the peace. If it has any intention of subduing the flickering animosities and moving on from the pain and anger of the riots, it must insist on keeping the relocation plan as it is, and then ensure that the neighbourhood remains utterly safe. But then again, if only a single housing project could ensure integration.
Source: The Indian Express, New Delhi