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Election 2014

Missing cricket matches is hot topic as Himachal votes tomorrow

Just like everywhere else, corruption rather than poor infrastructure is driving the campaign agenda in both Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand.

Bharatiya Janata Party prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi’s decision last week to appropriate the slogan of a soldier killed in Kargil may have fuelled the daily controversy machine for one cycle, but it also reminded national audiences that there are elections still to be held beyond the Cow Belt.

The hill states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand both go to the polls on May 7, but you wouldn’t know it from surveying the press. The reason is simple: Himachal brings you just four Members of Parliament and Uttarakhand five Lok Sabha. Even combined, the two states don’t have enough political heft to dislodge even Haryana (with 10 seats), which means they are irrelevant to overall electoral calculations.

But this doesn’t mean elections there are missing the tension of races elsewhere. Himachal, for example, has managed to get a politician into trouble because he denied them two cricket matches.

BJP MP Anurag Thakur happens to also be a joint secretary in the Board of Control for Cricket in India, which has allowed him to turn even the T20 league into political ammunition. Thakur revealed that the BCCI had approached the Himachal Congress-run government to host between two and five IPL matches at its stadium in Dharamsala. When the files reached the state authorities, which would have to sanction appropriate security for the matches, they sat on them for so long that the BCCI had to look elsewhere.

To Thakur — who is contesting from Hamirpur in Himachal — this matters not just because the residents of his state would be missing out on some sport. It would also mean a substantial financial loss. “The shifting of matches has led to a revenue loss of Rs 500 crore to the state exchequer,” Thakur told IANS.

In neighbouring Uttarakhand, the hot topic also appears to be missing money, not with the cricket but with the country’s other major obsession: religion. Here the Congress party has levelled allegations that between Rs 500-Rs 600 crore in government funds allocated for the 2010 Kumbh Mela, when the BJP was in charge, has simply disappeared.

These corruption allegations are propelling the campaign led by the state’s chief minister, Harish Rawat, of the Congress, who has managed to put into play a state that seemed prime to hand the BJP a clean sweep of its five seats. Rawat only became chief minister in February, after the previous Congress CM’s name had been so tarnished by corruption allegations that he had to be replaced.

Rawat has spearheaded the fight in the Haridwar constituency, where his wife Renuka Rawat is up against another former chief minister, the BJP’s Ramesh Pokhriyal Nishank, who was at the helm during the Kumbh Mela. Without the taint of graft affecting him, Rawat has found it easy to aim the corruption-allegation gun at his rivals.

Since it is the flavour of this election season, it’s not surprising to see corruption top the election-campaign charts in both of the states. Yet politicians in both the hill states appear to be studiously avoiding issues that are more specific to them.

The aftermath of Uttarakhand’s disastrous deluge last June should have turned environmental issues and distress migration into central plot points. Yet the main campaigns have barely touched on the slow pace of the rehabilitation projects, the flood damage caused as a result of hydel projects or the massive migration of people from the hills down to the plains.

And in Himachal, the need for a genuine conversation on policy matters can’t be better demonstrated than by the willingness of entire sections of the electorate apparently willing to boycott the polls just to raise their grievances.

All the panchayats along one 20-km stretch of broken road in Bilaspur district have threatened to refrain from voting altogether unless there is a promise that the section will be fixed. In Sion, in Sirmaur district, residents of local villages came together because they were “angry with the fact that even 67 years after Independence they were yet to get better roads, schools and health care facilities". As a result the entire village has declared that it will not be voting.

But the most interesting outcome in either of these states might come in the way of something that is set to happen after elections. Already convinced that it is coming to power — or seeking to put word out of its confidence — the BJP has made indications that it might meddle with Uttarakhand’s government.

The state was created by the BJP under former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, yet all five of its seats went to the Congress the last time around. The assembly is also run by the Congress — but probably not for long. Murmurs from the Modi-run BJP have suggested the party might look to turn some of the seven MLAs from the Progressive Democratic Front, which has so far used its numbers to ensure that the Congress runs the government despite winning just 32 seats in a 70-member assembly. If this happens, the party would essentially be toppling the state government and turning Uttarakhand into a saffron state.

Since similar wafer-thin majorities are in play in Bihar and Jharkhand, even just the suggestion that this might be the BJP’s approach starting in Uttarakhand only reiterates how hill state politics might end up mattering nationally, even if their seat numbers don’t.

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“Doctors have it easier than us. Their mistakes get buried, our mistakes will be there for everyone to see”

Celebrated architect Hadi Teherani tells us what luxury in the living space means to him.

Hadi Teherani is best known for designing iconic buildings in Germany including the famous Dockland office in Hamburg and the Kranhaus in Cologne. But he’s also left his mark on the landscape of Abu Dhabi with the Zayed University, and has designed a luxury residence that will soon grace the skyline of Mumbai—Lodha Altamount. We spoke to him about the challenges of designing luxury living spaces in India.

Q. In your opinion, what is the definition of luxury specifically in the area of private residences? Is it a lot of fresh air, space and daylight? Is it the room composition? Or is luxury something completely different?

Hadi Teherani (HT): For me, luxury is first and foremost to have space, not just enough for what you need but enough space to really thrive. And luxury has always been defined that way. If you look at Art Nouveau houses, those rooms have incredible heights. So yes, space is definitely an important factor when it comes to luxury. In Europe people pay attention to every square metre and here in Mumbai it is the same. There are slums where 4 people live in one room and just across the street somebody is living by himself on 1000 square metres. Once you have space, luxury can be in the features, in using certain materials, and there is no limit. Some things, of course, are simply not available here: the luxury of fresh air and a clean sea. No matter how much money you are willing to spend, you cannot get those. Therefore, you are limited to what is available.

Q. Have you incorporated this concept of space into previous projects?

HT: Yes, in different ways, no matter if you are working on government-sponsored housing projects or in the luxury segment. Usually our projects are more in the luxury segment, where space is crucial. We are currently designing a building where luxury can already be sensed at the parking level. You reach with your car and you are already supposed to have the feeling that you’ve arrived at a hotel lobby. This is how far luxury has come. That the arrival in a garage already gives you the feeling as if you are coming to a palace—you get out of your limousine into this stunning lobby and this feeling continues as you go up into the apartment where you have a bathroom that is 20-30 square metres and not just 5-10. The idea of really designing your bathroom or kitchen has not yet reached India. Bathrooms are still rather compact and practical since the idea of spending quality time in your bathroom doesn’t seem to exist yet. Customers definitely do not request a spacious bathroom when we discuss their projects. For me, personally, a great bathroom is extremely important, as it is the first thing you use in the morning. Afterwards you go to work, and you come back home. But I believe the areas that you use most need to have enough space for you to move and thrive in.

Q. Do you have any role model in the field of architecture? Maybe a building or a person?

HT: The Bauhaus is still my role model. Back then they designed products for day-to-day life, affordable for the general population. But those products have become classics today like the lounge chair by Le Corbusier. Those were project works but Bauhaus thought further ahead. The idea was to give people light, air and space, and to free them from elements that were poorly designed and uncomfortable like big stucco ceilings. The focus needs to be light, air and sun. For them, architecture and product design were always very fluent concepts. Le Corbusier, for instance, designed fantastic buildings as well as whole cities, but on the other hand also designed furniture. Gropius had even designed a car once and furniture, too. This school of thinking has influenced me, and once you have all those “tools” and this way of thinking, you get very far. With this “toolbox” of modern design, you can create anything and influence society. The times back then aided this development; everyone was opening up, living in and with nature, not hiding away in little holes. And the world evolved from there. And today you can see they are daring even more spectacular things in Asia than they used to in Old Europe.

Q. You have already gained quite some experience in India. Is there something that you would define as a typical “Indian palate”, and if so, how does it differ from the international projects? You already mentioned the differences in bath and kitchen design, but are there, for instance, taboos like colours you wouldn’t use or something in room composition?

HT: I haven’t encountered anything like that. What I do experience is that many projects are influenced by religious thoughts and by Vaastu, something like Feng shui. So the master bedroom has to be in the south-west and the kitchen has to have a certain location. Those rules need to be followed exactly, no matter if it makes sense for the building or not. Here in Mumbai it’s a little more liberal but in other regions, Hyderabad for instance, every centimetre has to be exact as per Vaastu. Sometimes they want a dedicated room for pujas. All this changes while designing a project, of course. But overall the ground plans are not that different. The families might be bigger so houses and apartments are bigger as well, or they are trying to utilize each and every square metre and avoid hallways, for example.

Those projects are also in the centre of a lot of marketing. We are not used to that in Europe but here in Mumbai or even more in other cities like Bangalore, along the entire highway from the airport into the city you only see 50-metre-high billboards announcing new real estate projects. You don’t see anything else! And it’s very creative marketing with catchy headlines and slogans. That isn’t happening in Germany. One more difference: when designing upper class buildings in India, they require a maid or servant room, maybe a separate entrance from the staircase and so forth. Here, you can still afford having a maid. In Europe you might have someone coming by for three hours once a week but certainly not living in.

Q. Let’s talk about the Lodha Altamount. What was the challenge?

HT: The design of Altamount was strongly influenced by being a Lodha project and by its location. Next to Altamount stands a luxury highlight of architecture, the Ambani tower, the most expensive home in the world. How do you want to top that? The Ambani tower is very structural. It shoots through the air, it combines all sorts of crafts and structural design elements with gaps and open spaces. You can’t top that and definitely not with our type of design. That’s why we decided to hold back and instead develop a dark and sleek building. That type of building doesn’t exist a lot here in India. Usually buildings have many structural elements like beams and balconies. By creating a calm building in the skyline of Mumbai, we will make Altamount stand out. Plus, the top of the building is very unique. Many structures are either simply cut off straight or completed by a dome. We have two geometric pointy tops so that the building is properly completed and doesn’t look as if it could grow further. It has a head and feet and is finished. So for us to hold back was our way to stand out. It doesn’t devalue the building design in anyway. It is meant expressively in the sense of “less is more”. And the interior is of course very luxurious: it is designed through and through, there is the green car parking podium, each balcony has a mini pool. So all those luxury features are present but the architectural design is based on the idea of “less is more”.

Lodha Altamount (Mumbai) designed by Hadi Teherani.
Lodha Altamount (Mumbai) designed by Hadi Teherani.

Q. Luxury can drift into the eccentric, depending on the client. Have there been any projects that were very eccentric which you still accepted or projects that you had to turn down because they were too eccentric?

HT: As architects, we create a space. What happens, of course, is that people buy an apartment in a great contemporary building and then furnish it in a baroque style. But that freedom has to be there, of course, because we can’t also tell the client which curtains to use or clothes to wear. At a certain point our job is done. However, when it comes to public buildings, the public is supposed to benefit from, so I have to be strict and dictate. In private buildings you can leave it up to the individual but publicly I have a responsibility and cannot consider each and every taste. I have to do a clean job so that in the end every individual can find himself or herself in my design. Anyway, taste always stems from a certain upbringing, culture and environment, so I also have the duty to educate and that’s what I do with my projects. When a small child walks by a building, she recognizes when the proportions are right even if she has no idea about architecture. But if the proportions are off, the child will pick that up too, because every building also exudes energy, either of unease or comfort. So we have quite a big responsibility as well. I always say doctors have it easier than us. Their mistakes get buried, but our mistakes will always be there for everyone to see.

With one residence per floor and a host of bespoke luxury services, Lodha Altamount is the epitome of unrestricted luxury. Designed by Hadi Teherani, and a part of the Lodha group’s Luxury Collection that has homes present at only the globe’s most-coveted locations, Lodha Altamount is the last word in luxury in India. For more information about Lodha Altamount, see here.

This article was produced on behalf of Lodha by the Scroll.in marketing team and not by the Scroll.in editorial staff

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