Two days ago, images of Indore MLA Akash Vijayvargiya, the son of powerful BJP general secretary Kailash Vijayvargiya, attacking officials of the Indore Municipal Corporation with a cricket bat sparked outrage across the country. But for the BJP in Indore, he is a symbol of courage.
On Friday, all across Rajwada Chowk in the heart of Indore, the BJP held a protest with posters that read “Salute Akash.” Slogans rent the air: “Akash ji diler hai, BJP ke sher hai (Akash ji has courage, he is the lion of the BJP)”.
Akash has been remanded in judicial custody for assaulting house inspector Dharmendra Bais and preventing the demolition of a building declared unsafe in Indore’s Ganji compound. But on Friday, it seemed his actions had lent themselves to a political image construction.
The writ of Kailash Vijayvargiya runs through the manicured streets of Indore. He is the man who has never lost an MLA election in Indore, and rose from the post of Mayor to running the party’s growing operations in West Bengal. In contrast, Akash, a 34-year-old first-time MLA, was known to be “soft, polite, perhaps not up for a fight.”
Not anymore. From up on stage at the BJP protest, former BJP MLA Jitu Jirati said: “I have known Akash since he was a child. He always had sanskaar (culture), is polite, well-educated. What would it have taken for him to get so angry to take such a step? He was fighting for the poor, against the corrupt. But it shows that he will fight for people. And I say, if more needs to happen, then it should.”
Other BJP leaders hailed the “lion” in Vijayvargiya. But it is an image makeover that has been aided by Akash Vijayvargiya himself that has taken a life of its own. Speaking to reporters Wednesday after the incident, he had said, “Pehle aavedan, phir nivedaan, aur phir danadan (first petition, then request, and then attack).
On the streets of Indore, there is much debate on Vijayvargiya’s actions. For some, the assault went too far. But closer to Ganji compound, where the dilapidated houses No. 52 and 53 — they are part of one two-storey building — still stand after being marked for demolition by IMC, the voices become unanimous. “Thik kia (He did right),” they say.
Part of the BJP protest was the five-member family that continues to live in a room inside the building, who have alleged misbehaviour, and even molestation by IMC officials. Officials say all the other occupants have vacated.
Sapna Shrivan, who is part of the family that has stayed back, said they have been living in the building for 80 years. “At 9.30 in the morning, their team came and began asking us to vacate. We beseeched them that we had just had a death in the family, and we were in a mourning period. They did not listen, and began misbehaving with us. They began to push us inappropriately, without any female officers present, and abused us. Where could we have gone? That is when Akash bhaiya told them to stop, and when they didn’t he got angry, and did what he did. All MLAs should be like him, and he should be released from jail,” she said.
Another family member, who did not want to be identified, said the family paid a minimal amount of rent, and that none of them are “BJP members” but were fighting for what is right. While the house is registered to Sanjay Patel, he could not be traced, with neighbours saying that ownership may have changed many times over.
Apart from the allegations of abuse, a press release issued by Sapna claimed that the family only received a notice to vacate only two days before IMC officials arrived for the demolition. It claimed that the structure was solid, did not need to be demolished, and that the action was being done under Congress pressure.
But documents accessed by The Indian Express show that a notice had been sent declaring the structure unsafe in 2018. In a mirror image to the notice dated June 14, 2019, a notice signed by the “bhavan adhikari” of the IMC sent on April 3, 2018, declared that the building had been declared dangerous, and that is was a safety hazard to human life.
The notice also warns that if the residents did not remove themselves, any loss to life and belongings would be their responsibility, and that under sections of the Municipal Act, the property was liable to be sealed and demolished.
In the Ganji compound, the walls of the house are crumbling, its tin foil roof barely staying in place, columns that seem to support the structure crooked, and precariously placed. On the first floor, which is accessed through a crumbling staircase, is the only sign of habitation, with a few clothes on a line. Another staircase to the left lies in complete ruins.
A worker at the Sulabh Shouchalaya that is right opposite the house said: “More people lived here, but they all moved out because it was so dilapidated.” To the right, is a stationary JCB, with its glass all shattered, a remnant of the violence of Wednesday.
An independent report dated July 10 by Sahyog Construction and Consultancy, which carries third party verifications of dangerous structures, and signed by Anil Rajvaidya, Consultant Engineer, reads: “I have seen and examined the building physically and technically. Walls of the first floor portion are completely collapsed and a number of cracks in the wall. Roof slab of the building is bouncing when walking on it. The staircase is completely collapsed. The total structure is on an open foundation. It is very dangerous to live here for everyone, and also dangerous for road side travellers and all surrounding buildings.”
Asheesh Singh, Commissioner of the Indore Municipal Corporation, said that initially a list of over a hundred such dangerous structures had been made through the city, which was then whittled down to 26. He said that lessons had to be learnt from the collapse of MS Hotel in Indore in 2018, where nine people were killed, and that the primary issue was public safety.
“These are structures that are dangerous and with the rains coming, we had issued a timeline of the demolition of all these structures, and for the sake of transparency and logistics to all government departments and public representatives as well — 10 of 26 buildings have been done. We will start the programme again on June 30. We will require adequate arrangements but there will be the support of the police and the district administration. But my point is simple. Public safety is paramount,” Singh said.