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Made in Chandigarh: It’s a city interrupted, says Manish Tewari

He may have traveled the world, but Chandigarh remains his favourite city. Find out what this lawyer-cum-politician Manish Tewari feels about the City Beautiful, its traffic chaos and the slums

punjab Updated: May 18, 2018 21:50 IST
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Manraj Grewal Sharma
Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
Manish Tewari,Made in Chandigarh,Supreme Court
Contrary to the belief that the city is full of

A Chandigarh boy muses...

Name: Manish Tewari

Age: 52

I am a lawyer practising in the Supreme Court and various high courts of the country, I am also in the public life as a national spokesman for the Congress from 2008. I was a minister of information and broadcasting for two years and am a distinguished senior fellow of the Atlantic Council, one of the most prestigious global think-tanks based in Washington DC.

Hometown

I am a Chandigarh boy. I was born and raised in Chandigarh, I spent the first 21 years of my life there. Very immodestly, I can say that I am one of the first generation Chandigarhians.

Education

I did 10 years of my schooling from St John’s and the last two years at what used to be then called Government Senior Model School, Sector 16. I did my graduation in Economic honours from Chandigarh before enrolling in the Department of Commerce and Business Management at Panjab University. Finally, I did my law from the campus law centre at Delhi University.

My Chandigarh connect

Chandigarh has always been home to me. Even now I try to visit it every weekend. When I was in school, I used to pedal down from Sector 24 to Sector 26 every day, and thrice a week, I would go home, grab my lunch, and then pedal back for games. The roads used to be empty and there wasn’t so much concrete on the pavements. I still remember how the gravel roads would merge into the beautiful green footpaths.

Area of expertise

Essentially, I am a litigator practising in the Supreme Court and various high courts of the country. Colloquially, you can call me a ‘daily wager’. Give a me a brief and I will argue your case. Politics has been part of my growing up years because my maternal grandfather Sardar Tirath Singh was a freedom fighter who fought against the decadent feudal rulers of Punjab in the Praja Mandal movement. For a long time, he was minister in the Pepsu (The Patiala and East Punjab States Union) and Panjab government. My paternal grandfather based in Patiala was also in public life and my father was nominated to the Rajya Sabha for his contribution to literature. So the aroma of public life is part of my inheritance, and came to me naturally.

I was the president t of the National Students Union of India from 1988 to 1993. I was also the first Asian to be elected president of the International Union of Students, a body of 194 student unions from 170 countries for a four-year term, beginning 1992. Subsequently, I remained the national president of Indian Youth Congress from 2000 to 2008.

My secret sauce

I am very passionate about whatever I undertake. I make sure I do what elevates me, and makes me feel like waking up every morning. I believe it is very important for all of us to pursue a path that animates us. Essentially, what’s always got me curious and excited are events that make a lasting expression on the contemporary society and history. All through my growing up years, I was a great history buff. I still am a keen observer of international affairs, global policy discourse, and the rules of engagement in the cyber space.

The turning point

It was definitely the assassination of my father in April 1984. I was 19. One moment he was there, three hours later, he was no more. From that moment onwards, I knew that I was on my own, that I was now responsible for all the decisions I take and their implications.

What I owe to Chandigarh

Everything. There isn’t a better place to raise a family. Unfortunately, the 15 years of turmoil in Punjab impacted the city adversely. Otherwise, Chandigarh, not Bengaluru, should have been the logical IT hub of India, given the manner in which it has been planned; the expanse of its educational facilities, and its environs that allow you to reach the hills in a matter of minutes.

The city has also not been able to achieve its full potential because of the tyranny of bureaucracy it has been subjected to since 1966. Contrary to the belief that the city is full of chittiyaan daadiyaan and hariyaan jhaadiyaan (white beards and green bushes) Chandigarh has a soul, a beat and a zing to it.

Things I like to do when I visit Chandigarh

I try to be in the city every weekend. And when I am there, I go cycling early morning. It is not something that you can do in most places in India. The city has seen the growth of a large number of small restaurants. There are beautiful eateries and even little book shops. It’s become a nice, diverse place.

How has the city changed

Like any other big city, Chandigarh now has a very ugly underbelly. There are parts of the city that are no different from parts of Ludhiana or even Delhi. Chandigarh is essentially a story of three cities – the city itself, its villages and its slums. The traffic has also become very chaotic. Chandigarh is slowly becoming a commuter’s nightmare.

Change I want to see in the city

We need to rejuvenate the city’s underbelly. There are several models available in the West. Former US president Barack Obama transformed the inner cities. So can we. The problem is that there is no long-term planning here. Our municipal corporation has probably had more number of mayors than peons in the corporation. We have a lazy bureaucracy that treats it as an R and R (rest and recreation) posting. In the absence of any long-term planning, there is no effort to tackle either the slums or the traffic. We have also never got a great representation in Parliament. The danger is that if we let problems languish, they reach a critical mass that is impossible to resolve.

We need to mobilise our collective, creative energy to transform and rejuvenate the slums. We also need an underground mass rapid transport system that does not alter the principal character of the city. It may be financially unviable to begin with, but we need it for future planning.

The best advice I ever got

To never take yourself too seriously. The worst thing you can do is to envelope yourself in an exquisite cocktail of ignorance, arrogance and self-belief.

My advice to budding lawyers/politicians

First, become an independent legal practitioner, then enter public life. Liberalisation has changed India. We don’t need old-time politicians who make money out of politics. Chandigarh is a classic example of speaking monuments of corruption erected by corrupt politicians.

First Published: May 18, 2018 10:51 IST