The Telegraph
Friday , February 15 , 2013
Since 1st March, 1999
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Watching the continuing horror of Connaught Place’s renovation/restoration, I am aghast at the confused aesthetic that has overwhelmed this urban space — a recent legacy, the architectural splendour of which should have been preserved. We have lost our sense of pride and our understanding of the past. Connaught Place, the grand, pillared shopping arcade built in the last century, has been mutilated by reckless illegalities of corrupt municipalities.

Open lift shafts are used illegally by squatters, and the municipality does nothing at all despite endless complaints. Kitchens are allowed to be built in stairways, inviting the risk of fire hazards. It is shameful. Now, a beautification is happening with no end in sight. It is a mish-mash of jarring elements that have created a typical babu-like jugadh, which symbolizes the anarchy of post-Independence architecture by the Central Public Works Department.

To a city that has some of the finest forts, havelis, buildings, serais and tombs that are centuries old, this substandard ‘modernity’ — represented by the Delhi Development Authority, the CPWD and the insensitive babus who man these organizations — is an insult. The unfolding of a thoroughly incompetent job, endlessly delayed and therefore with huge cost overruns, should be unacceptable to the State of Delhi. Those responsible should be pulled up for their failure. We shame ourselves every so often. Our leaders are constantly discrediting Edwin Lutyens, when we cannot even maintain and protect our capital city.

Bitter truth

Babus must not be at the helm of such projects. They are uninitiated in the finer details of art, architecture and history, but wield inordinate power, which they use mindlessly to destroy rather than conserve. To make a transition, all public-private initiatives must be structured in a way that the babu does not have the upper hand, and cannot suppress interventions that will expose the rot. This is what has made most such partnerships unworkable. India has outgrown the babu and the caged, stale mindset that believes in a rule-book which has no relevance in this day and age. Any political dispensation worth its weight should have realized that the deprecation of the system can only cease if the babu is re-educated in a spirit of inclusive governance.

From municipalities and urban development to foreign affairs, the characteristics of the quintessential babu remain similar. The political eruptions in the Maldives are one case in point. With India having played a weak and incomprehensible ‘game’ for the last few years in that region, the situation is now difficult to salvage or calibrate. It reflects inept handling. Where are the hard negotiations to compel the existing regime to follow a democratic system and to protect those values we profess to endorse?

As an ordinary citizen watching the events unfold, I can only imagine that India, in its belated support to the former president, Mohamed Nasheed, has failed to disentangle the knots that it allowed to be tied, and is bound to get caught in new power equations that the present dispensation may have developed with the United States of America or China. The seeming strength of purpose and policy that the current regime in Maldives is displaying suggests that India will have to become an acolyte of one of the ‘senior’ world powers if it wants to have some hold in the Indian Ocean area. We have lost our leadership position in South Asia which we gained over the last decade.

This reality points to the fact that rational and committed political leadership is now top priority. The political class must dominate and direct the babu if India is to restore its position at home and abroad.