Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Palace Towers over Terminus

Yesterday and today there were protests by Colaba traders whose shops are located behind the Taj Hotel in Bombay. The lane there has been shut, for the most part, since Obama's visit here nearly three months ago. Security concerns, specifically a terrorist threat to the Taj, have been cited -- on New Year, Republic Day, and almost every other day since early November. The traders were suffering disastrous business losses due to the closure of this lane.

As I was happy to note this morning, the lane (which I can see from my living room window) has now been opened. But at the same time Police Commissioner  Sanjeev Dayal has publicly advised the shopkeepers to "look beyond profits"! Certainly if anyone profited from this closure it's been the Taj, whose visitors have had a lot of space to park their cars. Basement parking at the Taj was closed following an earlier bomb attack in front of the Gateway of India and there doesn't seem to be any plan to reopen it.

Now it's true that the Taj suffered casualties, along with the Trident Hotel across on the other seafront, during the 26/11/2008 terrorist attacks, so one cannot be too complacent about a terrorist threat. But I just now thought to check out the numbers, and  was surprised. According to this website, 31 people were killed at the Taj and 30 at the Trident. But another 58 persons - almost equal to the sum of the previous two numbers - were killed at CST station. Today there is massive security at the Taj, modest security at the Trident and (for all practical purposes) none whatsoever at CST. The hierarchy is worthy of note.

Over the last two years there's been a trend of VHPP's (Very High Profile People) insisting on staying at the Taj apparently to "express their solidarity". Besides Obama, the list includes former White House residents George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton. Not to mention the President of France (that short guy, I forget his name) and his attractive wife  Carla.

In fact the trend to stay there started even before 2008. This puzzles me because there was a time - during my childhood - when all visiting heads of state would be put up at Raj Bhavan, the Governor's residence with a spectacular private beach and helipad in a classy Malabar Hill location. Why did everyone stop staying there and decide to risk the ugly decor, indifferent food and atrocious Husain mural at the Taj? I'm not sure when it started, but now it's an epidemic.

With all these visitors as well as the threats we keep hearing about, roads in these parts get closed all the time (for the Obamas it was nearly three full days, starting well before their arrival). So it's hardly surprising that Colaba residents and shopkeepers are tired of it. For now, the latter seem to have won the day. But the Police Commissioner's absurd request to them to sacrifice their profits for an elite hotel - that wouldn't let most of them in - leads me to worry that the barricades will soon go up again and privatisation of the road will resume.


aativas said...

Police Commissioner can only request to those who would pay some attention to him! Will the VVIPs listen to a mere Police Commissioner?

Cheeta said...

Being on the other side of the world on 26/11, one saw the horrors of the attack through the lenses of international media - which, as I recall, were focused almost entirely on the Taj. In virtually every foreign reprise of the attacks, the footage shown is invariably that of the Taj - not surprising, since in CNN's and the BBC's archives there's surely more footage of that Hotel and its surroundings than of any other site of the terrorists' killings. And, of course, the building itself is instantly recognizable.

Small wonder that security at the Taj is heaviest of all. A copycat terrorist seeking media attention would surely have that hotel at the very top of his "to do" list (a killer more intent on a high body count than on eyeballs watching would probably head for the distinctly less photogenic but far more crowded Bombay Central terminus. Or Dadar station at rush hour).

But why foreign dignitaries end up dining there is a mystery.

Rahul Basu said...

Surely you realise that Ratan Tata has a line to 'People who Count' that the shopkeepers don't. Apart from being one of the churliest people around, going by his comments after 26/11 .