Tuesday, July 20, 2010

India: The Jinxed Jewel :: Times Magazine

In the early 1950s, the great French architect Le Corbusier designed
the city of Chandigarh as a capital for India's sprawling Punjab
state. Though shantytowns have long since sprung up alongside its
lovely cubes and rectangles, Chandigarh (pop. 150,000) still stands
out like an exquisite jewel in the blazing Punjab plain. From the
first, however, it has been a jewel with a jinx —accursed, like the
Hope diamond.
In November 1966, after savage rioting, the Punjab was split in two,
creating a predominantly Hindu Haryana state and a Sikh-dominated
Punjab state. Both communities demanded exclusive possession of the
capital city. Premier Indira Gandhi promised to settle the matter as
soon as the 1967 elections were out of the way, and in the meantime
allowed Chandigarh to remain the capital of both states.
Three years passed. Last October, an 83-year-old Sikh, protesting the
division of Chandigarh, died on the 74th day of a fast. In the ensuing
crisis Sikh Leader Sant Fateh Singh, who had been threatening
self-immolation off and on since 1966, vowed to go through with it
this time unless Chandigarh was given unconditionally to the Punjab.
He set Feb. 1 as the date. As if to underline the Sant's resolve, his
attendants had collected kerosene and firewood at their holiest
shrine, the Golden Temple in Amritsar. To complicate matters, a Hindu
named K. K. Toofan, fasting outside Indira's residence in New Delhi,
threatened a suicide of his own if Chandigarh was not turned over
outright to Haryana.
No matter what Mrs. Gandhi decided to do, trouble was bound to follow.
She put off a decision as long as possible. But with Sant Fateh
Singh's deadline approaching, she had to make up her mind. Three days
before the Sant's scheduled bonfire, she announced that Chandigarh
would go to the Sikhs; in compensation, the Hindu state would be given
$26 million for a new capital, and in addition would be ceded a part
of the Punjab's fertile Fazilka precinct containing 114 Hindi-speaking
Fair as the compromise seemed, it enraged both communities. Mobs in
Haryana attacked railway stations and burned trains and buses; eight
persons died in the rioting. Angry Sikhs hurled stones at the Golden
Temple in Amritsar, where elders of the Akali Dal Party released the
fasting Sant Fateh Singh from his suicide vow. "My pledge has been
fulfilled," murmured the Sant, accepting a glass of orange juice from
the temple's head priest. And Chandigarh, named after Chandi, the
North Indian equivalent of Kali, the Hindu goddess of destruction, has
lived up to its name.


Read more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,876560,00.html#ixzz0uDMpf5Jr

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