Thoughts from the Raj Thackeray meeting today

I was very upset with the way Mr. Raj Thackeray’s function to discuss the Development Plan 2034 and Aarey was organised. At the end of the function I expressed my displeasure with other members of the Save Aarey group and some members of MNS and left without exchanging in any of the superfluous pleasantries at the end of such functions. For those who wouldn’t know, today Mr. Raj Thackeray in his personal capacity decided to keep a function to discuss the draft Development Plan of Mumbai and the Aarey issue, which has got strong highlight as a result of the efforts of the Save Aarey movement.

As a prelude the Save Aarey movement members had met him when he visited the car shed site of Aarey, I had personally showed him around and explained the many issues. Even before, his wife and son had visited and Save Aarey members had accompanied them as well. Subsequently he had invited us to his office where he explained his plan for the program on 28th March.

The whole proceeding today did not see a SINGLE mention of the efforts of the Save Aarey movement and the enormous effort through much difficulty that a few citizens have made in the past eight months towards giving the character and scale to the public discourse over saving this important green lung of Mumbai. Not a single mention. It was as if Save Aarey movement did not exist. As if he knew none of us.

This clearly cannot be without design. Anybody who would discuss an issue which has been much in public discussion would by default mention the names of the key stakeholder(s). It is natural to have it on your tongue, as a means of either general comment or appreciation. You do not discuss the World Cup cricket without discussing specific teams and players. You do not discuss advertisements and spectators. And yet the entertainers (advertisements) and the naturalists (the spectators) were the focus of the function.

This can only happen by taking a conscious decision to not even mention, forget appreciate the efforts. Who took this decision I don’t know but somebody did. Possibly Raj Thackeray wanted his function to be all about himself and nobody else – facts be dammed or it was P K Das’s decision who really seemed to be the ‘architect’ of the program structure. My feeling is it is more of PK. Raj Thackeray showed up for less than 15 mins during the function.

I was not expecting to be welcomed on the stage or felicitated or anything but not to have even a mention of the efforts was downright insult. I had not come to fill the auditorium and clap at regular intervals or ogle at film stars whom I care a damn about. I found this in keeping with with this syndrome which is in India’s DNA to not give credit where it is due, steal from patents, reverse engineer and all that usual bullshit with which the national character is almost synonymous. People will not do original work but have the energy to build on others work with fervour and displacement.

Mr. Raj Thackeray’s video showcasing his blueprint on a vision for Maharashtra released in September 2014, among other things strongly emphasizes that it is not the role of elected representatives and government officials alone to change the despicable situation. It exhorts citizens to have a sense of belonging to their state and city and even go beyond the call of duty in changing the country. It commented upon how the youth leave the country for greener pastures in the west because of the better facilities there. I could argue that those countries and cultures have a stronger (relatively not absolutely)  sense of ethics with regards to recognizing individual effort and standing up against injustice, which creates the attraction for talent to migrate.

I could argue that some of the points or the theme of the film may have been borrowed from my book The Futility of Aam Admi Party versus the Promise of Active Citizenship published earlier in April 2014 but that would be conjecture and I am certainly not holding a grudge on that account.

Efforts like those by citizens who are members of Save Aarey is what is in such grave shortage in the city and country today. As a shameless society and culture we do not provide any material support to such efforts but to not even have some gratitude at such a function needs some commentary.

P K Das hogged the stage for more than one hour with his hyper inflated architect ego (The whole Robert Moses and Hafeez Contractor combine kind of phenomenon to ruthlessly dominate the form and shape of a city) while trying to show empathy and a desire to serve the city. I am by now irritated enough with PK to put it publicly. I can never get to have a clear sense of who he really is, what values and ideology he really stands for, almost always left with this smoke and mirrors feeling and games within games. His unabashed ambition and aggression and moving and wanting to dominate every facet and discussion at the displacement of others is really ridiculous and irritating. Maybe I am also envious of his boundless energy and resources.

In this case he was no where in the efforts to save Aarey in the preceding months but realising that the oven was hot decided to bake his cake and then eat it too. First come in as a supporter and attend the meetings and organise meetings with Raj Thackeray etc. and then just usurp the issue and take over the planning of the area with the raw might arising out his financial strength and having half a dozen employees at beck in call in his architecture firm to generate high quality drawings and presentations.

PK clearly overdid his stay on the stage and was outdoing the entertainers in theatrics and repeating some information far too many times over but would not leave the stage or expend some energy in appreciating the efforts of Save Aarey.

With regards to Aarey there was a slot given to the work of Zeeshan Mirza, Rajesh Sanap and Nayan Khanolkar in the extensive documenting of the biodiversity of Aarey over the years. One slide showed them even standing behind the CM and Dy. CM of the previous government after having received an award and a joke that the same government then went ahead and gave permission for a car shed at Aarey. Nayan represented the trio and went about showing footage of the leopard territory being encroached upon by Royal Palms and about how the leopard is an integral part of the landscape. Besides showing species of spiders and scorpions and butterflies, some of which have been discovered by the duo and trio. There were videos and photos.

My argument is that this footage or documentation of Aarey is not what has contributed to the overwhelming public discourse in favour of saving Aarey. This follows from my disdain of the naturalist community of Mumbai, which displays Himalayan proportions of indifference and lack of courage in intervening in the preservation of the very ecological assets that they explore inside out, have earned their masters and doctorates from, made careers either from academic work or from photos, videos and writing prose and poetry about.

This category loves to exaggerate that high quality photos taken by them contribute to conservation. An earlier generation developed a great career on it and now another generation takes the tradition forward. Conservation happens by taking strong positions, by giving time and sweat and blood to campaign and make a noise about protection. All this photography is nature porn at the end of the day borrowing from the term food porn.

In the case of Aarey I have not seen any of the naturalists making the noises over the years. I have never seen a Zeeshan, Rajesh or Nayan themselves make any strong position or effort over the years, though they were in a far better and stronger position than me or others who have joined in the past six months. to save Aarey. And I know Zeehan and Rajesh well and enjoy a good relationship. But that is just the way – the norm – with naturalists in Mumbai. After their work in Aarey things took the usual trajectory, which has served well many before. There is recognition, invites from Western nations and then opportunities to be reputed research scholars and good funding for their works. Few ever save the habitat they worked in. Recently I pulled in (here) from past email records and my posts in Dec 2003 highlighting the urgent need to look into the many violations on the Goregaon side and the need to define the buffer accurately. The whole decade was an orgy of enjoying nature by the naturalists community.

Had some of us not taken such a strong non negotiable position first on the Aarey Road expansion and the zoo and then on the car shed the destructive activities would have just gone ahead with possibly little or no noise or usual chest beating about the degradation of the city from the naturalist community. There is enough evidence on that from past from Aarey itself not to mention many other locations.

And then finally came the entertainers. Six of them on the stage with some usual stuff, too boring to even right about. There were some women members from the party behind demanding that a particular star be called upon the stage, not knowing that he had left a lot earlier. People (including many in the Save Aarey movement) have this mistaken notion that by giving star power to campaigns there is a turbo boost and influences outcome. I am tired by now in arguing people out of it. These are the torments of having been in too many effforts over the years, having good memory and documenting history and trends over years. Better to have a short (public) memory, enjoy the stars and snacks and sleep peacefully.

One thought on “Thoughts from the Raj Thackeray meeting today

  1. Rishi, keep doing the good work. Don’t expect others to appreciate it, especially the politicians. In most cases people want to take the credit of someone else’s efforts. It seems, you are very much troubled with the event. Just ignore it. Don’t allow it to change your course, You are doing a good job. It is not your problem that others recognise it or not. Great achievers walk alone in front and others follow. We are one man army.
    All the best for the noble ventures.

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