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2014 election campaign

This election is a fight for honour and revenge, Amit Shah tells Jat audience in riot areas

Anti-Muslim rhetoric runs high as the BJP election manager in Uttar Pradesh addresses meetings in areas torn apart by riots in September.

On Thursday, SDJ high school in Raajhar village, 40 km from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh, was preparing to receive an important visitor. The teachers were stringing up marigold garlands in the computer labs. Folk musicians were singing raginis that satirically spoke of the emasculation of all men under the present government.

The chief guest arrived four-and-a half hours late. “I got delayed because of the broken roads in the area,” said Amit Shah, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s election manager in Uttar Pradesh. “When Narendra Modi comes to power, each village will have proper roads and electricity.”

Shah, 50, is the former Home Minister of Gujarat who has been accused in a fake encounter case and was asked by the Supreme Court of India in 2010 to stay away from the state to prevent him from influencing witnesses. He was accompanied to the meeting by BJP legislator Suresh Rana, who was imprisoned for 12 days for his role in precipitating riots in Muzaffarnagar and Shamli in August and September that left 49 people dead.

Since the Raajhar event was billed as a private meeting with the Jat community organised by Amit Pawar, an industrialist who owns mines in Indonesia, Shah did not use the microphone to address the gathering of 400 Jat men for the fear of violating the model code of conduct.

Raajhar village is the headquarters of the Batteesaa Khaps, a sub-group of the Jat community that dominates this sugarcane belt of western Uttar Pradesh. Western Uttar Pradesh has 25 out of the 80 seats in Uttar Pradesh. Jats have been the traditional vote base of Ajit Singh’s Rashtra Lok Dal. But this September, after the communal riots in the area between Jats and Muslims, the Jat vote began to shift towards the BJP, which won only 10 seats in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in the state.

In the wake of the riots, the BJP not only managed to repackage the Jat identity into that of a larger Hindu one but also deflect attention from the bad governance of its own candidates. It fanned the demand for the withdrawal of the 356 cases against members of the Jat community for rioting, polarising voters on communal lines.

Though the crowd applauded as Shah blamed the bad roads for his unpunctuality, his explanation didn’t cut much ice. After all, the constituency has been ruled by BJP MLA Hukum Singh for over two decades. Singh is one of the 16 political leaders accused of sparking off the Muzaffarnagar riots, and was the Lok Sabha candidate for whom Shah is campaigning.

Suddenly, one man shouted, “We have only two demands: there should be a separate law to ban same gotra self-choice marriages under the Hindu law and all cases against Jats in the communal riots must be withdrawn.”

Shah raised his hand to reassure the man. “For the integrity of this community, the answer is Modi government,” he said. “Not the government who gives compensation to those who killed Jats.”

Shah added, “This is the time to avenge. The leaders standing next to me” – he pointed to Suresh Rana and Hukum Singh – “have also been humiliated. A man can sleep hungry but not humiliated. This is the time to take revenge by voting for Modi. This will defeat both the governments: the one at the Centre and UP government who lathi-charged and tortured our leaders.”

The honour theme spilled over into the next meeting in the Raja Rani banquet hall in Shamli district.  This time, Shah was joined by Ajit Singh, the headman of Lissad, one of villages worst affected in the riots, who stands accused of fanning the violence. Several khap leaders of the Jat community were also present.

The meeting started with a request from Udayvir Pehelka, an octogenarian Jat leader: “If Amit Shah has come to talk to us, he must promise that he will help us withdraw all the false cases against the Jats and secondly, address a national problem, which is to control the population of this country, else soon enough votes from our community will not count and only” – he stopped to make a sign indicating a beard under his chin –  “they will be present everywhere”.

When Shah took the stage, he declared, “This election is the election of honour and revenge.” He said that women in UP were not safe. “And when we protect them, we are called rioters because Mullah Mulayam is busy defending the minority”, he said, making a reference to the support Mulayam Singh’s Samajwadi Party gives to the area’s Muslims.

Shah quoted a Narendra Modi’s tweet, promising “to stop pink revolution and start green revolution”. The pink revolution referred to the slaughter of cows and animals, he explained. “Beggars have turned millionaires by running butcher houses,” Shah claimed, taking another swipe at the area’s Muslim community.

He ended by invoking Pakistan, rhetoric that always plays well for a community that sends large numbers of members to the security forces. “When Narendra Modi comes to power on May 16, Pakistan will learn a lesson for beheading our three soldiers,” Shah said. “Uttar Pradesh has always played a role in change. This time western Uttar Pradesh must ensure that Modi comes to power!”

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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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