Public Policy: Gurugram - Adding insult to injury

The name of a hit brand is an invaluable asset.

In a move smacking of breathtaking insensitivity, the Haryana government chose the eve of Ambedkar Jayanti to announce that Gurgaon would henceforth be known as Gurugram. The state government elected to revive the city’s mythical association with Guru Dronacharya, teacher to the princes in the Mahabharata. The state government lost sight of the fact that in the dalit world-view, Drona was supremely casteist. He would not accept the low-born, including ace archer Eklavya, a dalit, as pupils. The announcement was also steeped in irony: Haryana is ruled by a party which is seeking to embrace Ambedkar with gusto and is bending over backwards to establish its pro-dalit credentials.

In this age of Rohith Vemula and Kanhaiya Kumar, when there is an upsurge of dalit consciousness, Gurgaon should be embarrassed about its association with Drona, not flaunting it. Critics of the party have been trying to debunk its new-found love for Ambedkar. They now find evidence for their contention that this fealty is spurious. That apart, it is quite apparent that the state government is innocent of all knowledge of branding. For all its faults, Gurgaon has emerged as the face of modern India — dynamic, aspirational, business-driven and youthful. All in the span of less than two decades. Any marketer worth her salt will tell you that you do not mess around with the name of a successful brand.

The name of a hit brand is an invaluable asset. It is not changed without considerable thought. We do not know whether this decision was informed by any strategic thinking beyond the notion that it would appeal to a constituency that harbours the belief that deliverance from current woes lies in returning to the halcyon days of ancient India. This name change is, in fact, the only significant step that the state government has taken that signals to the denizens of Gurgaon that it even thinks about the city. For a long time, the city has been crying for attention. This was ignored by the previous administration.

There is little evidence so far, beyond the name change, that this government is any different. “Chance-directed, chance-erected, laid and built.” Odd as it might seem, Kipling’s description of Calcutta seems to hold good for Gurgaon. The pre-eminent corporate hub of northern India, home to half of the Fortune 500 corporations, has every appearance of being deprived of the ministrations of urban planners. This seems incredible when you consider that the mandarins presiding over Gurgaon’s civic destiny over decades, and their political masters, have been living and working in magnificent Chandigarh.

The joint capital of Haryana and Punjab is perhaps the finest example of a planned city in independent India. Gurgaon has been unfortunate in having been deprived of the attentions of a Nehru, a Partap Singh Kairon or an M.S. Randhawa, ICS, the three men responsible for building Chandigarh. The bane of Gurgaon is the multiplicity of bodies involved in running the city and the villages around which it has grown. There is a municipal corporation that is in chaotic coexistence with the Haryana Urban Development Authority (HUDA), the private colonisers, the village panchayats, the public works department and the National Highways Authority of India, among others. There is little clarity as to where the writ of one ends and that of another begins. There is even less clarity as to how differences between them are to be resolved. It seems as though the powers that be have a vested interest in this state of utter chaos. It helps them do as they please with minimal accountability.

The result of this anarchy is there for all to see: Poorly planned infrastructure, bad roads, near-zero sidewalks, grossly inadequate public transport, erratic electricity, insufficient sewerage, awful traffic and thriving lawlessness. Amidst all this is a superabundance of gated communities, glitzy malls and glass and chrome office buildings. And yet, perhaps due to its proximity to Delhi and its lone airport, or perhaps due to some very smart selling by DLF, the principal private developer in the city, Gurgaon has drawn scores of large corporates to set up offices here. In their wake have come schools, corporate hospitals and a myriad organised and unorganised service-providers.

Working in these organisations are several hundred thousand youthful folk, many of whom have made Gurgaon their home. The rest commute from Delhi, contributing to the messy traffic in the city. The underclass is mostly from eastern India. Gurgaon’s population is a microcosm of India, seeking to make a living and swiftly go up in life, making the most of the opportunities offered by the burgeoning city. But it has been very badly served by its infrastructure.

Gurgaon can still be salvaged. It needs a single, overarching urban body to run its affairs. Chandigarh must let go of its vice-like grip over the city, a hold that is debilitating in the extreme. This is easier said than done because, since Independence our politicians have progressively emasculated our civic bodies. In the pre-Independence era, a Subhas Chandra Bose could be the Chief Executive Officer of the Calcutta Corporation and, later, its mayor.

Likewise, a Nehru could be the mayor of Allahabad. When was the last time you heard the name of your city mayor? You do not hear of him because the position does not matter anymore. Any lightweight can fill it. A far cry from the world’s greatest city, New York, where the mayor is often an aspirant for his party’s nomination in the presidential race. Without a single accountable body to run its affairs, Gurgaon will grow in chaos and, before long, collapse under the weight of its many contradictions. Renaming it only adds insult to the injury suffered by the hapless city.

( Source : Columnist )
Next Story