The Bulldozer Blues

This last week has been a bit of a traumatic experience for us, the residents of Puranikoti (PK) village, as far away from Khargone and Jehangirpuri as Sabarmati Ashram is from the BJP headquarters in Jhandewalan. Now, PK is a tiny village with just 192 “souls” (as the PWD board proclaims), we don’t even have a full time village drunkard so we all take turns at discharging this responsibility. Nor is there much in the way of excitement here: the last time we got really excited was about a year ago, when one of the residents was appointed Chief Secretary, much against the run of play. Since then, however, we have only had the occasional tourist falling off the mountainside or a wandering leopard carrying off a village mongrel, usually named Tommy or Tiger in deference to the state’s high literacy rates.

So you can imagine our collective surprise when one morning a bulldozer rumbled into the village, fortunately without Anjana Om Kashyap perched on the bonnet. Puranikoti has no masjids, no halal meat shops, no Bangladeshis or Rohingyas, no Muslims, no houses built under the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana which need demolition, and no encroachments other than the orchards on forest land, which is an acceptable means of adding to one’s immoveable property in Himachal. Why then was this paragon of the ‘acche din’ trundling into our village?

We all rushed to locate our title deeds, building plan approvals and the phone number of the local MLA. One die hard optimist even tried to get the mobile numbers of Brinda Karat and Amanatullah Khan, the only known antidotes for rampaging bulldozers in this, the 75th year of our republic. Someone suggested we call the media chaps, till we saw that three OB vans were already following the bulldozer and one had a banner which proclaimed “Bulldozer hai to mumkin hai.” The village idiot suggested we ring up Rahul Gandhi for help but someone else pointed out that he was in a Nepal disco dancing with nubile nymphs. The current, pro-forma village drunkard offered to push the bulldozer down the mountain if someone would give him a bottle of “santara”- that was a non-starter because he had already finished off the entire stock in the local “theka” the previous night.

Imagine our surprised relief then as the malevolent machine showed no sign of stopping in our village but kept going, growling its way down through the forests in the direction of Ghorna village. Perhaps it was going to carve an illegal road through forest land, perhaps its mission was to do a little illicit mining on the side, perhaps the driver’s intention was to impress his girlfriend, like that bridegroom in Madhya Pradesh who landed up at his wedding on a bulldozer- who knows? My own view is that it was a flag march to build confidence among the hoi polloi and instill fear among the anti nationals. In the words of Confucius: man who raise objection will be razed himself. In happier times flag marches were carried out by troops or cops, but no longer- the bulldozer has now become the symbol of the power of the state, and the people love it. There’s an opportunity here for a smart political party which applies to have it as its election symbol . I hope the Congress is listening, because the hand now looks like a STOP sign on a one way road. Or Akhilesh Yadav: the cycle looks pretty pedestrian compared to this 200 horsepower behemoth, doesn’t it ? No oomph to it.

BJP supporters in Ranchi showcase a bulldozer in celebration of the party’s victory in the UP Assembly elections. File Photo: PTI

If, dear reader, you are getting the impression that Puranikoti is on the edge these days, you would be quite right. But it’s not just the bulldozer: there’s also this new Gyanvapi trend that’s catching on like the latest Covid mutant virus. In the days before Ramrajya arrived, when you bought a piece of land you simply checked the title and possession of the landowner. Now, however, you have to do a Phd in ancient Indian history and dig up the land to a depth of at least five feet before signing on the dotted line.

I did neither when I bought my bighas and I’m now a worried man. There are a couple of suspicious looking mounds on the Shukla estate: what if they contain a Shivling shaped piece of rock ? Or an ancient idol, discarded by some villager in bygone times in a redevelopment scheme ? Going by current practice, it wouldn’t be long before some court would send in a videographer or a court Commissioner, the house would be sealed, and I would be camping outside the Supreme Court along with all those chappies from Kashi, Mathura, Mandya and the Qutab Minar. It’s quite possible that soon you may require a certificate from the ASI that there are no buried idols or temples beneath the plot before you can get a home loan, register your property or erect a building on it.

And even if I am somehow spared the above test, there remains the question of title. When Todar Mal prescribed his revenue laws he certainly did not visualise that the Jamabandi would one day be expected to be the equivalent of the Dead Sea Scrolls- stretching back to historical infinity. The title of the present or immediate past owner is no longer enough, as the Taj Mahal imbroglio last week shows: one should verify ownership for at least five hundred years, lest a Diya Kumari type suddenly appears out of the ether of Chanel or Cartier and claims that the land was forcibly taken from her ancestors. Now, I’m fairly certain that neither the Mughals nor the Jaipur royal family ever came to Puranikoti (even the present rulers in Shimla have yet to discover this place), but there used to be a Raja of Koti and his descendants are still hanging around Mashobra. You get my drift, I hope.

No, sir, these are difficult times. I’m seriously considering two options to hedge my bets. The first is to install pictures of Mr. Modi and Mr. Shah on my front gate. According to a report in the Jansatta of 19th May, bulldozers stopped their demolition of a house in Delhi’s Khichripur when they noticed pictures of these stalwarts on one wall of the house. The photos achieved something even the Supreme Court’s stay orders did not, and this is a good low cost option. Why, I may even add a picture of Kangana Ranaut to the photo gallery for good measure- that should stop any bulldozer in its tracks, like it did Karan Johar and Hrithik Roshan! I’m also considering withdrawing my savings from the bank before Mrs. Nirmala Sitharaman grabs them all, and using them to purchase a bulldozer. Not only can I use it to flatten all those mounds before somebody notices them but it will also establish my credentials as a progressive citizen of the Naya Bharat. There’s more than one way to skin a CAT (or a JCB), you know.

Avay Shukla retired from the Indian Administrative Service in December 2010. He is a keen environmentalist and loves the mountains. He divides his time between Delhi and his cottage in a small village above Shimla. He used to play golf at one time but has now run out of balls. He blogs at http://avayshukla.blogspot.in/

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1 Comment

  1. says: Cyberlife

    Acerbically brilliant and spot on as always. Sadly, I made similar comments (about religious icons being found under my house and my fears of loosing the title to my property) to an old friend of mine. Sadly, I was scolded for my cavalier and insulting comments towards those trying to redress a wrong fro the past!!!!

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