Whenever they come to power they promise to make Chennai a world-class city. Some coined catchy phrases for it – Singara Chennai was one. Singapore is their avowed model for what Chennai ought to be like. When it comes to the Cooum, they quote the Thames to us and, likewise, they claim that the metro rail, when operational, will teach the London underground a lesson or two. Ask them about flooding and they will tell us about how we will soon beat Holland in best practices. When it comes to action, however, all this is forgotten. With the city and State in election mode, we have witnessed some of the worst behaviour possible in the last two weeks and it is only going to get worse.
One of the two political majors had a summit conference somewhere outside the city. The entire route was covered with bunting, banners, cut outs and political graffiti. Party workers thought nothing about erecting welcome arches right in the middle of roads thereby constricting what little space there was for vehicles. Even the flyovers were not spared. Some that have sharp bends and therefore have glow signs to indicate where the turnings were, had these covered with posters thereby increasing the risk of accidents. Traffic lights were hidden, as were road signs, thereby creating chaos. Pavements were dug up to erect banners and cut outs. Private walls were defaced and some commercial establishments even had their parking spaces intruded upon for hoardings to be put up. It must be acknowledged that all of these (minus the posters and graffiti that have stayed on), were removed immediately after the event, probably following the sharp backlash on social media. But while they stood, they caused enough trouble and gave us an idea as to how third world or worse we can be. It was then the turn of the other political major which, not wanting to be left out, decided that it would hold a political rally, in the middle of a working day and on one of the busiest thoroughfares.
The meeting was ostensibly to protest against tardy distribution of flood relief but the looming elections were clearly in the minds of the organisers. Traffic was held up for long, even as the other nuisance elements of posters, banners and flags caused other hardships. A large turnout of the cadre was reported, which makes you wonder as to what the cadre does for a living if it can attend rallies on a working day. The party has, of course, claimed that the rally was a great success. But what of the thousands of office-goers and other commuters whose day was spoiled owing to the disruption? What of those who had medical emergencies? Do people in world-class cities suffer such inconveniences?
If all this is the way Chennai is to function, then what world class are we talking about? On the one hand, these leaders conduct global investor meets, travel abroad to attract business and keep claiming we are well on our way to stardom as far as international ratings among cities are concerned, on the other they make life here difficult even for the pursuit of normal activities such as walking or driving around. Interestingly, there are well pronounced judgements of the High Court outlawing each of these offences – hindering movement of public by conducting rallies and usurping public spaces for political propaganda. But when the enforcing agencies choose to look the other way, what can the law do? In the face of such impunity, all claims of improving Chennai sound hollow, do they not?