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Mumbai Musings
From Khobragade to Shinde, from Raj Thackeray to Medha Patkar, politics is heating up. There are interesting times ahead, with elections approaching.
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Taking It To The Streets

The vice-chancellor of University of Mumbai may have underestimated the backlash for suspending well-known and much loved Neeraj Hatekar, head of Department of Economics. Since his suspension for openly criticising the university, blaming Vice Chancellor Rajan Welukar for the downslide in the university's academic status, and hence “breaching the trust”, students have been protesting incessantly. The university has accused him of "misconduct and moral turpitude." But his students think otherwise. And the academics also are outraged about this seemingly autocratic decision. Hatekar Sir, as he is popularly called on campus, has approached the Bombay High Court. AAP too declared has its support for the professor. However, amidst all this the university had a rather formal convocation ceremony. Those students, who wanted to protest, were kept out and away by the police. Although the media, students, academic community have been extremely supportive of Hatekar, the vice chancellor is yet to blink. Meanwhile, Hatekar Sir has literally taken the battle against the University of Mumbai to the streets by conducting classes on a footpath outside the university gate, with students sitting cross-legged on newspaper sheets spread out on the footpath in the winter sun, with a dog resting nearby.

Washing Away the Scams

Last week the Hindustan Times reported that the state cabinet had approved a cost escalation of Rs 622 crores for various irrigation projects in the state. The irrigation scam that surfaced in 2012, followed by the resignation of deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, a white paper on cost escalations, and Pawar’s reinstatement, had kind of put a hold on expenses. However, much water has flown under the bridge (not the canals, am afraid!) and elections are round the corner. So, what may have been only a matter of time has finally happened. “This cost escalation is in lieu of increasing cost of raw material, land acquisition, rehabilitation as well as change in the design and scope of the project. Of the 147 projects, there are 50 f rom Vidarbha, 37 f rom Marathwada and 60 from the rest of the state,” says the newspaper report.

Matches Made In...?

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, led by MP Raju Shetty joined hands with Mahayuti, BJP-Sena-RPI alliance for upcoming elections. This was said to be a set back for the Aam Aadmi Party, that is trying to find its feet in Maharashtra. However, before one could blink, MNS chief Raj Thackeray, who claimed his is the “baap party”, went ahead and criticized Narendra Modi, whom he admired so much just a few months ago, for not stepping down from his Gujarat CM post after he was declared the BJP PM candidate. And before one could try and figure that one out, Medha Patkar declared full support to AAP at a presser in Mumbai. Not to forget, there was also a self-goal by Sushilkumar Shinde, who recently said that his "political guru" NCP Sharad Pawar "could not become prime minister because of politics in Delhi" but that he would be happy to see him as the next PM,  Interesting times ahead.
Not A Class Act

That real life is stranger than reel is an old saying but a middle-aged Marathi actor Alka Punewar took it to another level. She was leading a middleclass suburban Marathi life with husband and two sons, and her acting career, of which we were unable to see any online records. After falling in love with a Chennai based man, half her age, Alka decided to do what might beat a Rajanikant-Salman starrer potboiler. To avoid embarrassment and hurting her children, she faked her death and escaped to Chennai. She reportedly bought a car that would crash near Khopoli and she would go “missing”. She hoped that people, including her husband and the police, would take her for dead and forget about her. Unfortunately, real life kicked in and the police never gave up on trying to find the dead body. What they found was this convoluted plot and a couple in love. And a lot of heart burn for the husband and children who got dragged into unwanted limelight...

Parole for Dutt

Actor Sanjay Dutt, who is serving his time in Yerawada jail, is out on parole once again. His wife Manyata has been hospitalised for several ailments and he has been by her side. Reports of Manyata suffering from TB, lung infection, a tumour and liver problems have done the rounds, none confirmed by any family member. Doctors haven’t said anything either about her medical condition or how long she will be in the hospital. Dutt will be out of jail till Jan 21 and possibilities of an extension are high. Although parole is every prisoner’s right, one can’t help but wonder about the aged and ill Zaibunnissa Kazi and other convicts in the same case, who may also have ill family members.

Not So Diplomatic

Devayani Khobragade, now a ‘famous’ Indian diplomat, has returned to India and Amchi Mumbai. Even as the Indo-US impasse continues, father Uttam Khobragade is in no mood to let up. Last week, he sat for a daylong protest fast outside US Embassy in Mumbai and continued to demand dropping of all charges. Jury charges listed against Devyani in the US court range from false representations to US authorities, lying on Visa application, violating US laws with regard to working conditions and wages. Back home, allegations of Adarsh flat surfaced. The family has denied any wrongdoing. However, the Republican Party of India, apart from the Indian government, has taken up for Devayani with exceptional zeal. They are now playing the Dalit card and she is expected to visit Chaityabhoomi in Dadar after her arrival. She misses her children and is happy to be back, she told reporters. Wonder what Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar would have to say about the entire episode.

The Aston Martin Mystery

A month after an Aston Martin belonging to a Reliance group company crashed into an Audi and a Hyundai Elantra (making the car model a household name),  the mystery about the crash and the driver, who had fled the scene after the multiple collisions on the night of December 6, persists. Even though driver Bansilal Joshi turned up at the police station a day after the accident to claim that he was behind the wheel, the police say they have not been able to establish who was driving the car, or whether Joshi was alone in the car, as he claims. While the owners of the damaged in the incident have been compensated with better cars, a newspaper report said that the insurance companies had not replaced the cars, despite claims to the contrary by one of the affected parties. Witnesses, who escaped unhurt in the incident, are not speaking to the media. Any incident that does not involve injuries or deaths is usually forgotten soon with a quick arrest and bail. But the delay in identification and arrest of the driver is only adding to the intrigue of what may well have been a straight case.

Celebrate the Chill

Mumbai may never make news for its minimum temperatures, but the city saw its coldest day in the season at 13 degrees (yeah, the coldest so far). The winter wear is out and people are enjoying the brief winter at various festivals celebrating music, dance, theatre and food in different parts of the city. Happy New Year!

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