A few years ago a Calcutta gateway would have been a hideously bad joke. Now, after certain projects for improvement have at least been talked about, and a few even begun, a gateway to Calcutta is just a bad joke. There is just too much to do with the Rs 20 crore that the mayor of Calcutta, Mr Subrata Mukherjee, has declared his pet project will cost. That in itself is doubtful, sensible people with a working knowledge of materials and mathematics have suggested Rs 80 crore as a possible figure, given the proposed design. Mr Mukherjee is particularly proud of the design, a truly post-colonial entry into a city full of colonial buildings. Besides, his plans include revenue-harvesting: the gateway complex would provide space for an auditorium, an exhibition centre, three restaurants and a theme park. His logic is simple. The Eiffel Tower has no utility. The only slippage here is that he is talking about the structure by itself, not about the economics of its building.
Mr Mukherjee is displaying a curious quirk of the human brain, often manifested by the various gentlemen who decide the fate of this city. A lavish distraction in the name of the city’s prestige, while garbage piles up and inhabitants go without drinking water, seems to be one favourite way of manifesting this quirk. It is no wonder that the chief minister’s objections to the proposed gate were removed once his pet project, the Rawdon Square cultural centre, was given clearance by the Kolkata Municipal Corporation. Fair exchange. Calcutta must have something to match the Gateway of India in Mumbai and the India Gate in Delhi, and thus put the mayor in the history books. It would also bring Ms Mamata Banerjee, the chairperson of the Trinamool Congress, into focus. She will be laying the foundation stone of the gate with the deputy prime minister, Mr L.K. Advani. Mr Advani’s laying the foundation for a useless post-colonial structure contrasts strangely with his interest in demolishing an important pre-colonial one. But nothing could be cosier. After all, people need to recall two things: Ms Banerjee’s closeness to the power at the Centre and her love for Calcutta and its people. The foundation stone could get both birds, and some more for the mayor.