Bangalore vs Bengaluru: The Tale Of Two Indian Cities
Rohini Nilekani, Philanthropist, Writer & Founder-Chairperson, Arghyam, Naresh Narasimhan, Architect, Vinay K Sreenivasa, Alternative Law Forum and Pawan Kumar, Film-maker. They are in conversation with T M Veeraraghav, Resident Editor, The Hindu Bengaluru. The Huddle 2017 was held on February 10, 11 & 12 at ITC Gardenia, Bengaluru.
0:01:10 T M Veeraraghav: Welcome to the Sunday morning session. We’ve got a lot of empty chairs at the back, and the one excuse that Bangalore can give for coming late, which is bad traffic, doesn’t work on a Sunday morning, so the roads are clear and you can see the potholes in between the roads. The last year this city has seen four very strong protests. You had the Cauvery protest, you had a garment workers protest and then you had a steel flyover beda campaign and Outer Ring Road protest. Now, what’s stark is that in the Cauvery and garment workers protest the people who took part, were not present in the steel flyover beda protest or the ORR protest and the ones who were taking part in these, aren’t part of the other. It’s not a question of a value judgment but is that an example that we are living in two separate cities, which don’t quite understand, much less appreciate each other or their concerns, and how do we bridge that divide? Possibly, that’s a solution or a suggestion is what we hope to get out of this panel.
0:02:25 TV: We have Pawan Kumar who made a film called U Turn, which BBMP officials asked their officers to go watch so that they understand what the problems of the people are. You got Vinay Sreenivas, both of them were college mates and one ended up into social activism, working with garment workers, working with underprivileged people to ensure justice and Pawan went on to become a filmmaker. Naresh Narasimhan, who has very different introductions of himself every time you meet him, sometimes he calls himself a high power drug dealer, just to grab attention, but he has been one of the force behind the steel flyover beda campaign, where people formed out a human chain. And of course Rohini Nilekani, who has seen Bangalore as a journalist, and also has seen it through the Infosys story side as well and the power elite of Bangalore, if I may call so. Begin by asking you Rohini, starting from the right and move to the left. Do we really live in two different cities and do we really understand each other in this city? And as part of transformation, was this city always like this? Was there always this disconnect? Was it really this stark?
0:03:49 Rohini Nilekani: No, it’s a good question. I think there are many cities in Bangalore, cities within cities, not just two, there may be dozens of them because there are very many different interests that compete with each other, right? So it’s not surprising if, say, the elites and the poor have very different ideas of how their city should be. I don’t think our city is so inclusive. And over the last few years, certainly, we have seen that the elite, if anything, are receding behind gates and walls, and so yeah, definitely I think you’re right to ask that question. There are some issues where all of us come together but I don’t know if we have the means to protest together or to push the political class to do something for the city together. So you see these disparate protests, and I think that’s bound to happen. So whether the city has changed? Yes I think in the ’80s when we first came here, it was obviously a different city and at that time, one of the things I remember writing was the Bangalore boom goes bust. Now, that seems like a very naive thing to think that in those days, we had problems compared to what we have now. Of course, the city is the most rapidly changing city possibly in India and that’s why it’s exciting to be here.
0:05:03 TV: But how does it hit you on the face when you go out there, when you’re identified with Infosys and all the international story that Bangalore is?
0:05:13 RN: I mean, a lot of people blamed us, us means I have nothing to do with Infosys, except that I’m a happy shareholder, but they all said, “Infosys started it all. We are such a nice city and look what happened. You people came in, all you tech people and destroyed a beautiful city.” So we got the bouquets and the brickbats. So I think we were definitely part of making the city’s face change, yeah. So I hope in the end it’s going to be a good force, and not a bad one.
0:05:41 TV: Sure, certainly. Naresh, as you’re part of steel flyover beda campaign, how much effort did you make to make it inclusive? I mean, is steel flyover really the issue that this city is most concerned about as one would say or are there far deeper issues which don’t get represented enough in a campaign like steel flyover beda? You get all the press and the publicity. But how much of it is inclusive of all sections of the society?
0:06:11 Naresh Narasimhan: Let me… Let me continue with what Rohini was saying. Bangalore has been in the imagination, two cities for a long time. It is the city and the cantonment. And the British cantonment is not a new thing. It was set up in 1809, which is more than what, two hundred and odd years ago. And the city has… But post-independence and also, I think post the regional formation of Karnataka as a linguistic state and what has happened really is that the city of Bangalore has come together, but it’s like, still there is an invisible dividing line. It just pops up here and there, and you cannot actually tell physically. I’m an architect, so I’m always looking at spaces. You can’t really tell anymore, except for very specific areas, which was city and which was cantonment. Now, have you noticed… I mean all of you… So one of the places, curiously, and actually, we chose it as a site of a Satyagraha. We did a Satyagraha, to stop that steel flyover. We did a day long hunger strike, is actually…
0:07:22 TV: A day long hunger strike as a Satyagraha, okay. The meaning changes, I guess, so…
0:07:25 NN: I know, but it’s… We did a protest there because Freedom Park in the city is actually a visible point of the division between city and cantonment. It’s actually a physical representation. That side is city, this side is cantonment. But really these are just wordplay, these are just imaginations that the steel flyover campaign would not have been a success if it had not been inclusive in the first place. It affects everyone. It’s a deployment of scarcity resources on a wasteful project, which is not part of any government plan and it has just appeared in the system, just like a surprise element. Right? We got support from everyone. I mean, Pawan would probably also reiterate. We got… I think, he got about 300 films made out of it. Across the spectrum, people felt that this was a mis-governance, poor quality of decision making, people doing… I mean, there were acquisitions of nexuses being formed. It was going completely haywire.
0:08:31 NN: So I don’t agree completely that the city… The city is divided culturally, maybe in two parts. There is a very anglicized part of the city and there is a very… The local culture and Kannada culture part of the city. But we come together quite a lot. It’s no longer a hard schism or a clear division and it depends on the nature of the issue being discussed, as Rohini put it, which side you will… Whether you decide to include being… Include yourself or be part of it or support it or whatever it is.
0:09:06 TV: So you’re saying that those holding hands for a steel flyover aren’t from gated communities alone?
0:09:11 NN: No. No.
0:09:11 TV: They’re people from outside as well.
0:09:13 NN: There were close to 10,000 people that day. And it was across the spectrum. We had to… It was across… The whole city came, the RWAs from everywhere came there from… People were coming from Padmanabhanagar to protest against that.
0:09:27 TV: But it was still the middle class, the middle class.
0:09:31 NN: Actually it spanned all classes also.
0:09:36 TV: Vinay? You want to add your thoughts to that? Do you agree that it was completely inclusive?
0:09:44 Vinay K Sreenivasa: You know, this was the campaign for the steel flyover, but several years back, we were protesting against the tree felling for the metro and this Jayamahal road widening, which is on the anvil right now. We were protesting that. We had a group called Hasire Usiru. And, at least speaking for ourselves, I must admit that our protests were definitely not inclusive. We did not include all the classes, primarily also because we were structured as a e-group, Hasire Usiru was a Yahoo group. Most of the discussion took place in the Yahoo group in English. So obviously there was like a barrier for people to participate. Everybody cares about trees. I’m not saying… Everybody in the city across classes cares about trees. But the question is, when we have such a campaign and when we are leading such a campaign, where we’re able to include everybody, I definitely think not. Hasire Usiru, definitely we were not inclusive. The cause was right, we were talking about… Naresh was talking about misgovernance, he was talking about policy making and how that has gone wrong and that’s what we were targeting through Hasire Usiru, saying that, who took the decision to widen this road, who were consulted before widening this road, and who took the decision for the metro. How was the metro alignment done? And what role did the City government even have, forget people?
0:10:58 VS: And that was not inclusive. And Naresh spoke of the two cities. Before independence, we were actually two municipal corporations, the cantonment and the Old City which was structured around the Pete area. And Naresh is right that now there is a lot of integration and you can’t really say that there are two cities in the sense… And I’d want to take it one step, maybe sideways and say that, yes, there is a certain unification, but there’s a certain unification class wise. So the middle class and upper class of Cooke Town and Fraser Town and middle class and upper class of Jayanagar and Malleshwaram might have similar interests and they might be together. But the city has a stark class divide. The slums across the railway track from Lingarajapuram and the slums in Jayanagar, ninth block and people are even surprised that there are slums in Jayanagar, but there are. Because we never took care to accommodate working-class people through this BDA layouts. That divide is very deep today. That class divide is very deep and it’s not just about the protests and how they’re not able to come together, but let’s just talk about simple things like friendships. How many of us can really claim… People sitting in this room? We are all like similar people. How many of us can really claim that we have friendships across class today? Right? And structurally, there is a problem where the city is really deeply divided.
0:12:19 TV: The point… Precisely the point that I wanted to come about, saying that, “Look, it’s not about not just the issues.” And the reason why we took protest as an example, is just as an example, to understand Bangalore and perhaps urban India, in virtually every other city. How do… If you say, there is integration, how do we then explain outsider-insider debate, the reservation for localites here, there is a language barrier. Any small mention of somebody from outside, is seen as, “You’re an outsider”. We’ve had instances of group of villagers getting together and expressing their frustration in a small accident inside the city saying you’re an outsider, you have conflict between Africans and locals in some areas. How do we explain these things, if there is genuine integration? Are these just symptoms reflecting the deep disconnect that is existing at a very fundamental level? Yeah, as the film maker?
0:13:21 Sumeeth Shetty: See my experiences are pretty much from my perspective, I don’t have so much history to back me up. I was an outsider when I was in Mumbai for about two, three years, and all my life I’ve been in Bangalore, and that’s the only time when I went and lived somewhere. So for me, the personal experience was now, for example, I was very actively part of his campaign in 2009 and also Naresh’s, the steel flyover, both trying to save the trees in the city and I was part of it, then when I was just starting out, because I generally felt for the movement. But when I was in Mumbai for those three years, there were I’m sure many things happening in that city but I could never… I mean I’m just, it’s reflecting thoughts, I could never be part of anything. For me, it was always, “Oh so this is how something is happening in this city.” And I always felt like I was just there as a visitor or someone who has come there to try and do some work.
0:14:18 SS: But as soon as it happens in Bangalore it kind of takes priority over everything, else. I feel like I’m trying to fight for my home, or also that feeling. Now considering, I went through it myself. I’m sure people here who have come from outside to do work, they will definitely think that, “Okay, so there is some problem and the people who’ve lived here are trying to fight for it.” They don’t feel that they should be part of the thing. I don’t know what… Technically we should be. Eventually, we are all in some, one country or even on a broader perspective, we are trying to fight for the environment, but I don’t know how this… Probably the way we are brought up where… Our mind goes back to, “Okay, for my home, I’m fighting but when I was in Mumbai, I was not fighting”.
0:15:02 SS: So the same thing. Someone who’s come from Mumbai probably just observes it, probably tells his friend, “Yeah, I think you guys are doing right,” but doesn’t actively come forward. And I completely agree, with his point that our communications are creating the barrier. So… And the third point, which I felt was that I think there are people who look at the larger picture of fixing something like water, there is drinking water, and there’s water that you can’t drink. But the air you will not feel that. Things will change over the time. Today, you can still breathe, little more carbon dioxide you’ll still breathe, but water you can’t. It is a very clear distinction. So I think when there is that water problem, there are people who have immediate needs, there’s no water tomorrow. Tthey will come down to streets and say, “I need to fix this”. And people probably who came for steel flyover beda campaign were someone who were looking at, what will happen a little later, who could look at a little in the future and then say, “Today, we need to stop this”.
0:15:58 TV: So as you make that point on your… In your film industry, you have multiplex directors, people who make films which go for multiplex and then you have mass directors. What surprises me is that the biggest stars of Kannada cinema, you don’t see them taking a major role in a campaign and what we call citizen activism in this city. Is there disrespect that, “No, these guys are masses and we are the classes,” from this side? Or is there a disconnect from the other side to say, “No, these guys will come out, they’ll come out protest, that’s their job, and then they will go back?” Do you see that even in the film industry to relate with those who are making mass films vis-a-vis you, who takes up niche films?
0:16:44 SS: Okay, interestingly, so there was the whole Cauvery protest which happened six, seven months ago, and the whole film industry was told that you all have to be part of this protest and be on the streets. I wasn’t part of it. The film industry never said you have to be part of the steel flyover beda thing, but I went ahead and did everything possible, created a short film contest and everything possible from my end. So this is my personal way of handling it. Now for me, I have seen Cauvery protest since I was in school, maybe third grade or something like 20-22 years ago. And my personal belief is that the Cauvery issue has to be solved, not at a protest level, it’s a bigger discussion and maybe it’s deliberately not being done. It’s a discussion that needs to be done. And here, the steel flyover seemed like something immediately that has to be talked about, we need to create awareness. So that… This is my personal choice that I wouldn’t go on streets and fight for Cauvery because I don’t think that protest is adding any value to the… Because I’ve seen it every year, and it’s not doing anything. But here, this is something new, I can connect and I feel that if I create an awareness, it will help. Now, I don’t know about other people in the industry, but you can see that how I chose to be part of one protest and I didn’t choose to be part of…
0:17:53 TV: Are you alienated in the industry because of that? Because you don’t take part?
0:17:57 SS: I guess.
0:17:57 TV: What are the repercussions?
0:17:58 SS: Nothing, today everything is democratized. I do my films, the audience come and watch me. They’re just consumers taking my films. I don’t think the audience say, “Oh, he was part of the Cauvery protest, so I’ll go watch his film.” I think eventually, they’re paying 150 bucks to be entertained. So irrespective of what you do, they’ll come and watch your films.
0:18:16 TV: That’s interesting. Another interesting point he raised, is how he felt when he went to Bombay. You are an earlier migrant into the city, did you feel it was never yours when you came here?
0:18:26 RN: Yeah, I decided, once we knew that we were going to be living here, I decided this was my city and right from 1984, I started… One of the first things I did was sought out an activist group called Vimochana which fought for women’s rights. And I would go and do those anti-dowry marches and stuff, so yeah, when you come in, you can make the city your own. And I very much wanted to do that, so I just jumped right in.
0:18:51 TV: Is that also because that there were very few migrants at that time and when you came in, you didn’t have gated communities where you could live irrespective of the city? Just as he is willing to live irrespective of the rest of the Kannada film industry, as migrants, do we then cut ourselves off, and there begins the disconnect and there begins the question that I’m asking on why the people who are wearing cooling glasses out there, holding their hands for trees or for a steel flyover aren’t able to relate with the rest?
0:19:25 RN: Maybe, you’re right that earlier it was much more of a broader middle class and less of such an high elite that you see now. So it was different when I came in, and of course we had different concerns then too. Naresh knows more about these kinds of things. Naresh, you should tell us, is the city really changed that much and do you really think that… I don’t see in any city, when there are competing class interests, that everybody can come together. I think water might bring us together but I can’t think of too many things and transport, mobility possibly, but I don’t think of too many things where the concerns of the super-elite are the same as the concerns of the poor. In fact, they’re in competition in many cases. We know that.
0:20:08 TV: Which is true. A point I was just beginning, trying to suggest to you is, don’t the elite then have the onus to represent and understand? When you’re making a social movement to represent and understand everybody else, much of our political leadership, but you…
0:20:24 RN: It’s much… Of course, it’s the desirable thing for us to be liberal enough and progressive enough to fight for the rights of the poor while we’re fighting for our own rights, we don’t often see that. Sorry if I sound cynical and it’s, as I said, there are some issues that might bring us all together, but even if you look at the emergence of the hyper-local RWA kind of governance structures that have come up, they’re fighting for their own block. Very rarely do they come together. Of course, I think, Koramangala is an exception. We tend to rise for larger city sort of issues but otherwise you’ll see, in the absence of good governance in the city, citizens are actually taking up issues that concern them directly and coming together to solve some issues. I think that’s both good and bad, and that is new. I would agree that it’s come up in the last 20 years.
0:21:15 NN: What has happened suddenly in the last five, six, seven years is that the city has become two cities in the mind of many people. There is one set of people who see the city, Bangalore particularly, and it’s a problem across urban India, as a site of inhabitation that I want to live here. I want to send my children to school here. I want to go see a movie when I feel like it. I want to go for a walk whenever I want to. These are signs that you want to live there, you want to inhabit the place, and it’s another bunch of people, a lot of them from the political classes, who are elected and come into the city. It is not their own. They come from somewhere else in Karnataka.
0:22:02 TV: They want to get into the clubs as well.
0:22:03 NN: No, no. So they come and… For them, the city is a site of exploitation. How can I… What can I do to enrich myself using the city as a… The city is an enormous economic machine, just the administration of the city. It’s mind boggling to think, we spend close to 30-40,000 crore across all the government agencies. There are 36 plus government agencies fiddling with Bangalore and none of them talk to each other. It’s incredible. Even the BBMP, the corporation of Bangalore does not talk to the planning authority which is the BDA. So there is… What has happened is, we have created a silo structure which allows the perpetuation of the status quo of people exploiting the city. It’s impossible to pin them down, they’re like chasing shadows, it’s like a house of mirrors. You go after one guy and say, “You are creating the problem.” It’s actually not him. He’s just a front, the agency is just a front. So we are starting to confront issues like this and today, Bangalore is in the middle of making a master plan for itself for the year 2031. I don’t know why exactly… Why couldn’t they call it 2030, I don’t know, but why 2031, I have no idea.
0:23:27 TV: We’ll have to check with some astrologer.
0:23:29 NN: Some numerology probably, I don’t know. Something like that. And they’re doing it exactly like they used to do it earlier. All planning ideas used in India are fossil fuel ideas from the 20th century. They are all based on fossil, endless supply of fossil fuels. For them planning… They’ve forgotten the word yojane, which is a much more stronger word than planning. Planning means, for Indian bureaucracy and as well as for local politicians, building more and more roads, widening streets, cutting trees. They call it development for I don’t know why. And replacing parks with more parking. It’s an irony that the word park when you add an ing to it becomes something else altogether, right?
0:24:19 NN: So this is what they think is planning, how much FSA, how much the builder can do. The entire, the rest of the, what should I say, the more enlightened parts of the world, not necessarily in the West but the more enlightened cities in the world, look at planning in a completely different frame. What if you change the norms of planning to say what does it take to make this place women and child safe? That is planning. It’s like what happened to New York city? When in 1987, the Center of New York was a den of thieves, pickpockets, murderers, all. You could get drug dealers, you could get mugged. In 15 years, it has become Disneyland. It’s safer than Disneyland, probably the fifth… So that is planning. If you can think how to make a walkable city, if you say… Something like 30% or 40% of all trips in Bangalore should be made on foot, that’s the principle of the plan, then it becomes a plan.
0:25:23 NN: We have to completely abandon this model of bureaucratic, top down, I will decide land use, you are an agriculturalist, you’ll be a commercial guy. These are all highly discriminatory ways of… And you’re talking about class divides. The way affordable housing has been neglected in India, and in particularly in urban areas is simply not funny. There is… What the point in saying slums? They’re not even politically correct, they say Slum Clearance Board, as though they are like some animals to be or some vermin to be removed. Now, they don’t even use the word Slum Development Board.
0:25:58 TV: That’s now changed…
0:26:00 NN: I know. I’ve made a huge fuss about it. So I said, “How can you say Clearance Board?” And if you do not provide housing, if you do not provide opportunities for people to enhance their own capital and come up in life, in an aspirational way and instead spend money on idiotic projects which are clearly visible nexus operating there for a completely useless… Do you know, today, they’re opening a new road to the airport. They announced it two months ago after we started. In two months we have a brand new six-lane road to the airport today. It’s opened today. It’s incredible. So if it’s… Obviously, you see that when some things like this happen, you can’t just keep quiet. And it’s not that it will attract everybody’s attention. But this one issue is now everybody has understood, the government is spending money, your money and my money and our money on useless things which can be much better used in making the city better.
0:27:02 TV: That’s right. There would be specific issues, but going back to the core, which is more of something that’s at a psychological level in terms of a split between two cities that we’re talking about. It just comes to me and I want to get Rohini’s thoughts as well on it. You’ve led a very successful campaign on steel flyover. Can that campaign throw up one grass-roots politician, one person? I’m not asking you. Amongst the people who’ve led that campaign, will anyone take to grass-root politics? And do they have the ability to even contest in an election? Or will the disconnect come out there? It’s great to speak and tweet.
0:27:45 NN: I’ll say one line and then Rohini can answer. According to me, everything is politics. There’s no point saying that, “I don’t understand politics”. You are part of the… If you don’t understand it, then you’re deluding yourself. Everything is politics. So I’ll let Rohini continue from this. I don’t understand… There’s no question of any grass-root politician coming up. We’re all politicians to some degree. Whether you stand for public office or not, is not the qualification to be a politician. I don’t agree with that.
0:28:15 TV: No, but electoral politics also. Do you ever plan to do that? Have you given it a thought saying, “Look, we’ve got this movement, we need to turn it into… ”
0:28:21 NN: No, no.
0:28:21 RN: We’ll all vote for you, Naresh. Come on, give it a shot.
0:28:24 NN: Not really, but I’m saying that… No, no, no. Any major societal change in the way society thinks about something or understands how to do something are always the result of mass movements. ‘The Arab Spring’ all of you know, even in the recent past. So this mass movement has to become… The politicians are… The good politicians… Not the good, the successful politicians are true mass leaders, that much you cannot deny them. If they walk around, lakhs of people will come running behind them, listening to them. If you can create a… And the only thing they know what to listen to, is the mass voice. There’s no point talking to them one-on-one. There’s no point saying that we’ll sit in a platform like this and talk about how to do planning better. You bring a hundred thousand people there, they will listen to you. Because that is the source of their power. And we have to learn to use that.
0:29:20 TV: Do they see you as the masses? Do they see us as representing the mass voice? Do the politicians or the system see a movement like the ‘steel flyover beda’ as a representative of mass voice? Or do they see it as a representation of a class voice which they just have to engage in a different way?
0:29:36 NN: Its gone much beyond that. It’s not just mass voice, it’s a… Its almost become like a… Its an electoral problem now. If you… The elections are coming up in the next one year. This is a group of people who do not, who seem to have, which has come together now have… They don’t have vested interests in prolonging the status quo. That’s what has come. It has come now… And people are listening. It’s not that… See the Karnataka has… I should… On the one side, I’m saying a lot of negative things, but Karnataka has one great advantage over many other states in India. I cannot imagine doing what we did in Chennai perhaps, even the current situation even less, but… But I can’t… See, Karnataka is a very open society in terms of access to the leaders of the people, they are not far away, they don’t lock themselves up, they’re not like… You don’t need…
0:30:36 TV: You don’t wanna take names here.
0:30:40 NN: You know that. When you call a politician in Karnataka, they respond. They call you back within 24 hours. At least, I’ve started to see that in a positive way. Its the only state I think, at least in South India, I don’t know about other places, but where you can criticise the government badly in the morning saying that, “What are you doing, what a crazy idea?” And then go and have tea in the afternoon with the Chief Minister and talk about what a great place Bangalore was. And both exist on the same day. So there is a certain amount of civility in public discourse, which is missing in many other states in India.
0:31:15 TV: Rohini?
0:31:16 RN: Yeah, I agree with this point. The politicians are open and responsive. One thing about politicians is they cannot resist public pressure. There is no way they can resist public pressure, they have to respond and if you want them… If you want your city to be different, as Naresh says, you just have to get out there and shape the city the way you want it through your elected representatives. But as he has also said, I agree, there are many other power centers. You don’t have to be in electoral politics to be able to shape your city anymore.
0:31:44 TV: Having seen ringside view of the campaign in Bangalore south in the last elections? Is there any learning that you got about, “Look, this is what we think we are. But people think of us very differently?”
0:31:56 RN: Yeah, no, I learnt a lot, going around all of South Bangalore for Nandan’s campaign. And there I saw how much we are cut off from, say the people in the slums and the kind of problems that they have. And the response that they want the politicians to give, they want them to give it now. So the politicians, they pretty much run fiefdoms where…
0:32:20 RN: They have to respond like that. But that city is very invisible to the other people, that’s for sure.
0:32:25 TV: Which is precisely the point that…
0:32:26 RN: But I’ll tell you, the elite of Bangalore… I used to go to these big buildings and ask for people to vote for Nandan, and they would ask me, “What is he going to do about the bad road outside my gate?” And I’m… I had to say, “I doubt he can do very much about the bad road outside your gate, because that’s not what MPs are supposed to do.” Shocking level of ignorance about the role of MPs, MLAs and the city corporators.
0:32:51 VS: Alright, I just want to respond to your earlier question about should we the people who have benefited from a lot of… From the system have the onus to lead a campaign? I think there is a onus on us. And the onus on us is to recognize that privilege and to not use it. Because Naresh was talking about there are 36 different government agencies which don’t talk to one another. On top of the 36 different government agencies, we’ve had several high level committees, which have sat and decided for Bangalore, what Bangalore should be and for the people of Bangalore. Right from Bangalore Vision Group, to Abide, to BATF, to… There have been other vision groups in between. So when… We decide that, “Okay, we know what is best. We know how this problem has to be solved. And then when we try to go about doing it, that is further deepening the divide.” If you’ll ask.
0:33:47 VS: And the problem is, I’ll just complete, the problem is that… Talk about slums, right? Slums is not a housing problem, right? It’s not a question that… It’s not really a housing problem. There are two things for slums. One somebody is there in a slum because we have a really unfair wage structure, right? With the kind of wage structure we have, they can’t go and take a house on rent in Koramangala or Jayanagar or Basavanagudi or anything like that, right? And the slums is also that you want to provide housing, but you will not provide them that land rights. The people in the slums don’t want money. They don’t want you to give your money and build a house for them. They want you to say, “This… There is tenure security, you will own that land, and then you can develop it, people will develop it.” There’s enough research across and if people care to listen, what the Slum Rights Groups in Karnataka have been saying, whether it is Karnataka slum, Jan andolan, or Bangalore slum, Jan Sangathan, for years, they’ve been saying, “Give us land rights.” But we don’t want to give land rights.
0:34:44 TV: So when will we have a campaign of this nature which is governed by social media, Twitter, getting people across a wide field rising, come together to say, “Look, let us fight for land rights as well.” Which is where the disconnect is. You will make a movie on U-Turn, but isn’t there a commitment also to say that there are other issues? Let me also be part of it.
0:35:04 SS: Yeah, I think someday once, as a artist…
0:35:07 TV: The next hit.
0:35:08 SS: I need to connect to that and I need to be… Once I start, so… For example, there’s a movie called Amravati which has just released, which is about a sewage cleaner, so that director is connected to that part of the story and he’s made a film about it. So maybe now the film will make all the multiple owners who probably would not in real life want to see that closely, see a close up of it on a big screen. That might move them and then something might happen. The thing is now I think different people choose different topics. For me, it’s not like I travel on double road everyday. I don’t use… I don’t even go… I live in south of Bangalore. So for me the steel flyover is eight kilometers away. So it’s not like, “It was the place where I travel everyday, I needed to do something about it.”
0:35:50 SS: So to just use my previous film as an example, I’ve started to… The success of it, not from the box office success, but the fact that the movie got done and three months later, the flyover was fixed. So I’ve started to believe that maybe we can do work, which will create a huge public opinion. Movie is a very strong medium, in that way. If I had written a post about it, tweeted about it, that’s gone. Two hours that tweet, that thought is gone, but I spent 10 months made a movie. And some eight lakh people watched the movie and there was that buzz created that, “Hey, Bangalore there’s a flyover where things like this happened.” I think that added a lot of pressure on how the BBMP in that zone was talked about. And maybe that made them go fix it. So as an artist, I think that’s what we would do. So maybe, so 360 films, one minute films were made for steel flyover beda which were on YouTube. Now the… Like the slum dwellers, maybe if I get an idea of how to tell that story in a way where I am moved and I wanna share that disturbance to 10 lakh people, I would someday but I need to get there.
0:36:57 TV: So the point you’re saying is that, and Rohini this is to you, is that we will focus on the issues that matter to us. Let them focus on the issues that matter to them. Now, does that mean that we’ve become extremely self-centered about how we want to represent our activism and our activism is no great act of a high moral ground but pretty much a petty, selfish interest that we want to galvanize people for.
0:37:25 RN: It’s natural that people will want to come together for something that they need for themselves first. There are some pan Bangalore issues that people will come together for. I wish they would come for land rights, but I don’t see that happening in a big hurry. But I think when, in fact, on the way to Vekanagar, the slums were being cleared to put up some buildings of joint BBMP and some corporate house project. I think a lot of the middle class came out to say, “You cannot evict people and throw them out with their belongings on the road like this.” And there were sustained protests by the middle classes as well. Unfortunately, they couldn’t sustain it. It’s very hard to sustain these things. But they do come out when… I wish they would more.
0:38:08 TV: You wish they would more. One of the things that struck me when I moved into Bangalore about four years ago was the nice road where I had to pay a toll of 32 rupees and my neighbours, as possibly Infosys they work… They’re all technocrats who’ve lived in the US. And when I said, “32 rupees toll for an inside city road is a little too much.” And the response I got was, “Hey, it’s just $1.” So isn’t that also the problem that lot of people who put out tweets, and put out your Facebook post and complain. Like, for instance, they get down, there is a small riot that happens, people are willing to tweet a complaint, but they’re not willing to go to the police station to file it, and they expect that it needs to be done, which means that you’re still further disconnected from the system, and brings to the point of having two cities and administration which you don’t connect to. You have a voice, you have a public opinion and you want to muzzle your way into the administration responding to it. Naresh?
0:39:14 NN: Well, yes, I mean, after all the, what you call it, hype, I think social media is another tool and I wouldn’t give it the primacy of place that you’re saying that I’m gonna tweet and things are going to magically change or something. These are…
0:39:29 TV: But do most of the people who come for your protest expect it that way?
0:39:32 NN: Not really, because earlier it used to take days to respond, now it takes seconds or hours to respond so the speed of communication has increased. That still doesn’t mean it’s like… Somebody told me the other day about smart cities and here, it is a bit of a, what you call it, a soft take on it and he said, “You know what will happen after smart cities? We can take photos of potholes with our apps and send it.” The pothole will still be there, but the guy who made that app will make some money out of it, you know?
0:40:03 NN: So you can take the… It makes it easier to send pothole pictures to the BBMP or whatever it is.
0:40:09 RN: It’s called clicktivism. Clicktivism.
0:40:10 NN: Yeah. There is a lot of slacktivism, there’s one more level low than that, no. You just watch TV programs reporting a problem, that’s slacktivism. Just sit on your sofa and say, “Yeah, very bad.” But really speaking if you… See, the city, the word ecology and the word economics sometimes are not understood clearly. Ecology does not mean forest. Ecology means what we live in. It’s a study of the living system. We are also nature. We are not apart. Human beings are not apart from nature, but the whole city is run on the basis of economics, which is ridiculous because if you allow the pursuit of money to be the only reason why you develop a city or you do projects in a city just to further economic growth, then there will be a definite problem in every other… It will impact everything else, the ecology will fall apart. The air will become unbreathable. I believe Delhi is now 1600% or something above permissible limits. Bangalore is already 400% pollution above permissible limits, SPM 2.5. So it’s ridiculous. Why would you want to create a system which will kill. It may not kill you, it’ll take some time, but it will definitely kill your grandchildren. You’re leaving a legacy of, a toxic legacy behind, so for that reason it has to be across everybody, across classes. There’s no question of two cities and all that stuff. It has to be one city.
0:41:37 NN: And we have to… I am already seeing a quickening in the pulse of Bangalore. Yesterday, in the Jayamahal protests, there were more than 1000 people and 1000 people came there at 48 hour notice, that means… And people are dropping work, they’re actually missing appointments and all just to come and say, “No, we won’t let it happen.” So if this thing continues in this space and if this happens, I really think we may have a Bangalore that… Bangalore is the only city in India, I think, that can be retrieved at this point of time. Still has a hope.
0:42:10 TV: Even the traffic? Even the traffic?
0:42:13 NN: Traffic, what is traffic? You are traffic.
0:42:15 TV: Yeah. [chuckle]
0:42:15 NN: Right. If you replace it with… You give me lots of good buses and trains, I don’t need my car. I’ll become that traffic. That’s a solvable problem. But really, the… It should not get confused with ideas of two identities. It should not get confused with ideas of do you want to be a politician. Everybody is one and all of us have to play a role and electoral politics, is not the only way to influence complex systems.
0:42:42 TV: Is language a barrier? Is language a barrier? And I wanted to ask…
0:42:46 VS: Language is definitely a barrier because if you look at these discussions around urban planning, master plan, and all of those things we’re not even able to have these discussions in Kannada. There is not even the terms that we’re using. And we also… A lot of discussions around the city tend to happen in conferences which are largely English, and it’s not just like a language, but there is a certain barrier to participate in a place where the people and the language and the whole setting itself is really uncomfortable. So language is definitely a barrier and we need… It needs effort. You need to have a meeting where you need to have somebody translate, it’ll take more time, you need to actually do that. But coming back to your point also of this apathy and middle class apathy, Rohini spoke of the Ejipura evictions which took place and we were there, all those three days we were there. And it’s one of the worst experiences of my life. I was yanked out by my collar by the ACP of Koramangala’s division over there, that south-east division, I think. I don’t think the middle class really stood… There were few people there from the middle class who were there, yes, but nobody really stood there for the land rights.
0:44:00 VS: And there are people who came and gave food and water and all that, and yeah, very much appreciated. It’s required. But to fight for that land, that is land which was reserved for the economically weaker sections. How can the BBMP say we don’t have the money to build, therefore we’ll give it to Garudachar so that he can have eight acres in Koramangala for a 30 year lease. And then the other eight acres, he’ll build these houses free. And how can we tolerate this ridiculousness? It’s not just steel flyover, right? We have 3600 crores for the peripheral ring road. 50,000 crores for just phase 1 and phase 2 of the Metro. But you don’t have money and you want to give that land to Garudachar. It’s a Congress-BJP alliance, right? Harris and Garudachar sitting together dare and saying that, “Yeah, we’ll take this eight acres of land.” And what are we doing about it.
0:44:41 VS: And even look at the garment workers protest. How many comments were that that, “How dare these garment workers come? If they want something why did they have to block the roads.” There were people angry that the garment workers blocked the roads. You don’t realize that these are people working for six and a half thousand rupees a month and the kind of sexual harassment that take place in this garment industry. You don’t want to hear of any of those, you don’t want to hear why they’re concerned about their PF but you’re concerned that they blocked the road. They blocked Hosur Road, they blocked Magadi Road, they blocked Mysore Road. That’s what you’re concerned about. And even this, this clicktivism and tweetism, all these taking photographs and sending it, Bangalore city police is on Twitter and on Facebook. There are street vendors who have been evicted in certain parts of south Bangalore, and when we went to the traffic police and said, “Why are you evicting? There is a street vendors law.” And in any case, they were not doing anything to anybody. He’s saying…
0:45:40 VS: This is a problem we constantly face. People… Street vendors don’t have access to this Facebook and Twitter, maybe some of them do, some of them are on Facebook, I am not denying that. But the vast majority don’t, but we have this access and we’re putting it out there and these are things, right? When I’m saying, one, there is apathy, two, don’t take leadership and say, “I will decide what is required for the garment workers and slum dwellers.” They are there protesting, we should be allies, we should be giving support. Charity is not required, leadership is not required, but support is required. We have to recognize that.
0:46:11 TV: How do you make the middle class more empathetic to larger issues? Now that you’ve already galvanized them. You’ve already galvanized them, but how are you gonna channelize it to ensure that this becomes a social transformation even within the middle class, make them more introspective? Have you even thought of it?
0:46:27 RN: No, if somebody comes up with a pill that will be a good idea, but otherwise, I don’t know. It’s a process and there should be a push and a pull, right? They say you… Nobody… “The stick has to be taken away, it’s never given.” Right? So, I think it’s a political process by which people begin to realize that the fates of the poor are as much linked. If you all breathe the same air and if you’re going to poison that air, it’s the same concerns that we have, but it’s a process by which the middle class has to get engaged with broader issues, and I think right now, it’s everyone for themselves. I hope that phase will end. Somethings we collaborate but most things, people are out to look out for their own interests.
0:47:06 TV: One solution will be Naresh contesting.
0:47:10 NN: No, not really.
0:47:12 S1: But Pawan, do you have solution in mind as a film maker to bridge the gap?
0:47:15 SS: I believe that if we can make someone aware that this is your problem. It’s, like she said, we all are, I’m trying to handle my own problem. Now, we have to make them feel that yes, this is your problem. You’re not trying to say that fight for the city, fight for yourself. And I understand if we say that your grandchildren need air, there might be someone who says I need to be alive to make grandchildren. So his concern is, “Will I be alive for the next three-four years with good water.” So, I strongly believe, I don’t know if… It’s a personal opinion, that if we can do things, at least I try to do things, which is that I create this awareness that this is not a social problem that you’re trying to do, it is for your own self. And I think that to each individual becomes a group thought.
0:48:05 VS: The vice president was here at The Huddle, Mr. Hamid Ansari, and he spoke of the growing inequality in India, just yesterday or day before. One of the problems in Bangalore is, we’re not concerned about inequality. We are saying that we know we are creating millionaires. So many more people are millionaires now than before and so many more people have so much more salary, but we’re not talking about inequality. When we try to create a society which is equal and sustainable, that works for everybody. That will work for the whole of Bangalore, but we need to… We’re… Right now, nobody is bothered about inequality. People feel that it’s okay, it’s okay that we are unequal and that some people are millionaires, mega-millionaires, billionaires whatever, everybody’s getting developed. But you really have to think about… I’m not asking for old Soviet kind of thing where everybody has the same salary and everybody eats the same bread from the same factory or anything, but I’m saying you need to at least start thinking about how do we bridge this gap? When are we going to start talking about it?
0:48:58 TV: Naresh, quick thoughts.
0:49:00 NN: But that may not be a… That may be a universal basic income kind of idea that may not be relevant to a city itself.
0:49:04 VS: No, no even to city, Naresh. When I’m talking about…
0:49:06 TV: Given the point that economic…
0:49:08 RN: Vinay, but compared to other cities, Bangalore’s billionaires do a little bit more for the city than the other billionaires. You must give it to them.
0:49:14 TV: And certainly, in terms of activities…
0:49:17 NN: No, I’m actually switching… Let me just close with this. There are less than a 1000 people in this Bangalore city which are holding this city to ransom. We know 700 of them already.
0:49:28 RN: We voted for them.
0:49:29 NN: Yeah, yeah. Some of them we voted.
0:49:30 TV: Now, you are sounding like a…
0:49:32 NN: For a city of 1.1 crore, which is close 11 million, can you believe that all our collective fates are decided by less than a 1000 people. This is ridiculous. And the 1000 people consists of obviously to start with politicians, contractors, people who are influence peddlers, the… It doesn’t matter whether the politician is in the ruling party are not, just the fact that a politician is good enough, and many other businessmen and many other people who drive the fortunes of the city without listening to anybody else, only to exploit the city and it is our duty, I think as citizens of this city, to start calling out these guys in public. And it can only be done collectively because some of them, some names Vinay took just now are not easy people to confront one-on-one in society. They’re very powerful and many people may feel scared even talking to these kind of guys directly. But as a group, if we do not come together as a larger-interest group of Bangalore and confront these people and say, “No, it wont happen, [0:50:38] ____ beda.” And that’s what somebody asked me that day, “How far have you hit in your campaign, have you stopped the steel flyover?” I said no, but everybody in Bangalore, from everywhere, knows the meaning of the word “Beda.” And that’s the first Kannada word you need to know. That’s the first great step.
0:50:56 TV: Naresh, you’re getting very good at making speeches. I think it’s gonna come in good use. No, but having said that, the point that you made just opening up to the audience, yes, it needs to be inclusive, but how? Who needs to introspect? And how are you gonna make movements that represent everybody as possibly the fundamental [0:51:14] ____?
0:51:15 NN: It is an organic process. I don’t think one should strategize and plot it. People are coming to us from everywhere and people are coming together, not just to us. I’m saying they’re coming together and let it form like a mass movement, cannot be, it’s like an accident. You can’t plan it. An accident happens because you didn’t plan it. A mass movement also will, the moment the number of issues are common to a larger and larger set of people, the force will come together.
0:51:42 TV: So, maybe it’s also important to look for a mass opportunity and not just look for a class opportunity possibly, just find that issue that will unite. I think the onus is on people who’ve already helped to galvanize things, just opening off to…
0:51:56 NN: They’re very open to ideas.
0:52:00 TV: Yeah. So Bangalore or Bengaluru is I think India’s only truly globalized city, in the sense that a larger part of the city is connected to the global economy and global ecosystem rather than the local one. Its livelihood depends on global connections. Do you think that the kind of divides that you’ve been discussing, makes it possible to sustain this dichotomy? That you have one portion of Bangalore which is entrepreneurial, innovative, high technology led, connected to the global economy, living in Bengaluru, which is a city with a million problems. So if, is it sustainable? That’s one part of the question, the other is, that when you have all this on tap, when you have so much creative, innovative, technological, energy and expertise on tap, is it possible to tap this to actually solve the issues which confront the city?
0:53:20 RN: Well, I think Bangalore has more reformers per square inch than any other city in the country, and one is sitting right next to me. All these people have been working really, really hard to create better, more democratized citizen movements, and global or local, I think both come together. Naresh, do you agree that there are more reformers in Bangalore than in any other city?
0:53:43 NN: Yeah, I think it has the highest per square kilometer activism of any city in India. We just did a count the other day, there are 1700 plus RWAs in Bangalore. In the year 1999, there were five.
0:54:00 RN: Yeah.
0:54:01 NN: So, can you believe that?
0:54:02 RN: Your father has started one of the first ones.
0:54:03 NN: My father was one of the first ones? So, there are federations of, now what is happening is the… Like Vinay pointed out, some issues may be very local and not of interest to the larger city, but what is happening is that a federations of organization is forming and already two big federations have formed with more than 200 RWAs as part of it. So I think it’s at all levels, the city is starting to change and the political system is becoming very aware of what we’re doing. Because it is a grassroot… They’re all… Because basically in the end, you have to listen to the corporator right? In the end, that guy is your main guy on the street, in the ground, near your house, to find out what is happening, why the sewage is coming out form your manhole? The only guy you can catch really is that guy.
0:54:50 NN: From there, it’s starting to become bigger and bigger and bigger, and you’re already starting to see, it’s not all doom and gloom, right? From on one side, I completely agree with Vinay, that the issue of this land tenure has been boiling for years and really something has to be done about it, but at the same time, there have been good moves. Again, that has been criticized a lot, but one thing it has resulted is, the whole of central Bangalore now slowly is getting very good walkability. There are clean footpaths and people are… There are bus-bays, bus don’t stop in the middle of the road. Some level of transparency, not transparency, liveability is starting to come and hopefully it will spread all over Bangalore and the idea of pedestrianised cities, the idea of sustainable cities, I think it will go on and on. I don’t think there is a… And the idea that you asked me, whether the innovation from the tech… It’s not so hermetically sealed. There are about a million IT jobs in Bangalore, approximately give or take, few hundred thousand.
0:55:52 RN: One million.
0:55:53 NN: A million job is supporting something like another 4 million…
0:56:00 RN: Jobs, yeah.
0:56:00 NN: Jobs. Supply jobs, services jobs. I’m also a supplier to the… To Infosys, actually curiously. So in some sense, I supply architectural services, so it creates… It has a snowball effect. So I would say that even today, close to 50% of the city is dependent on IT and technology-based service, whatever, jobs and services. The other 50% is also able… You need them also to support the city. I don’t think there is any great class divide in this whole thing. And IT is starting to peter off, but something else will come, some other T will come. Don’t worry, sooner or later, some other T comes in. First we had floriculture and then we had granite culture and then we had call centers and then…
0:56:49 NN: Sorry, we have to take the next couple of questions, quickly.
0:56:55 Vijay: Hi, my name is Sumeeth Shetty, I’ve lived in Bangalore my entire life and even given the problems of Bangalore, I wouldn’t live anywhere else. My question is for Rohini and Naresh. Veeraraghav earlier asked a question about grassroot leaders emerging and coming into electoral politics, but the problem of Indian politics is one of huge barriers to entry. I’ll take the candidacy of the Nandan Nilekani in the election here, he was somebody who was recognized at the national level. Had many years of leadership, public service, an amazing track record, recognized nationally, huge financial resources. If a Nandan Nilekani cannot win an election, what hope do we have for grassroot leaders coming up and winning elections in this country? Thanks.
0:57:45 RN: Well, a lot of people coming, wanting to come into civic elections. In fact, there’s a big movement right now in Bangalore, to get people to stand for civic elections. I hope the next time around, you’ll see more of the middle class and not the standard, old style politician, but a new style politician, I believe will emerge in India over the next few years. You can see signs of it around the country, and I think local elections. In Bombay, there was a huge movement and many people did stand. Now whether… If they don’t win in the first few elections, eventually I think politics in this country is beginning to change, electoral politics. And you are going to see a new class of politician emerge, I’m pretty sure of it.
0:58:23 TV: And I also think it may be a technocrat, Nandan was a technocrat, not a politician. So I think there is a difference and maybe to believe that a technocrat automatically becomes a politician may also be a misplaced assumption. The next question?
0:58:37 S8: I’m Vijay. I think there is too much concentration about development of Bangalore. Yeah, I’m from Tumkur, which is just 70 kilometers away from Bangalore. Given an opportunity, I would definitely move out of the city. I see similar opinion from my friends who are from smaller metros, no matter whether in Karnataka or from other cities. So is it too much concentration? Is it development of tier two cities which will help de-congest the city and help in cleaning up the problems?
0:59:05 NN: Absolutely.
0:59:06 VS: Yeah, absolutely.
0:59:06 NN: 46% of economic output of Karnataka comes from Bangalore, which is a ridiculous number actually. They’ve definitely… If you ask me, you should go the whole hog and shift the capital of Karnataka to Davangere and build another Vidhana Soudha, if you want.
0:59:21 VS: Yeah, and this 1700 crores from the steel flyover should be used to provide urban services in all the other cities of Karnataka.
0:59:26 NN: Exactly.
0:59:27 VS: Nothing is provided to any other towns and cities of Karnataka, everything is poured here, and mostly for transport projects. Nice Road, Ring Road, Peripheral Ring Road, satellite Town Ring Road, Metro Phase 1, Phase 2, Light Rail, Monorail, all of those, if you develop the rest of Karnataka, I think many people will be happily in Shimoga or Davangere or Bellary or Dharwad and nobody wants to come to Bangalore.
0:59:48 TV: Well anyway, we’ve run short of time. Thank you so much. At the start of this panel discussion, I thought I had a clear idea as to what I was gonna get. Now I’m far more confused about Bangalore versus Bengaluru, and possibly you guys were, but thank you very much. I guess from confusion some day, there’ll be clarity and the disconnect will be vanished. Thanks a lot.