Of private zoos and the big fat Indian (pre)wedding

There have been protests reported from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura and Odisha against alleged illegal transportation of elephants, including tuskers, to Gujarat. But who cares?

The Ambanis
The Ambanis

A.J. Prabal

Chartered aircraft flew invited guests to Jamnagar Air Force base from Delhi and Mumbai. The airport was designated an international airport and elaborate instructions were given on what to carry and what to leave behind. A ‘mood board’ was shared for each day’s dress code and make-up artists and hair stylists were made available for each of the approximately 1,000 guests. Media reported 2,500 ‘dishes’ to choose from.

The three-day pre-wedding celebrations (the actual wedding is scheduled for June) of Mukesh Ambani’s youngest son Anant had both people and the media swooning for details. India’s richest man, who owns many of the TV channels, obliged by allowing his son to give interviews to fawning TV anchors.

It was, as Pratap Bhanu Mehta put it in The Indian Express, an ‘enticing script’, with ‘the perfect blend of wealth, power, glamour, family values, piety’.

Playing out on the sidelines of this extravaganza across media was a cringeworthy clip of a TV news anchor (who fancies himself as an investigative journalist) tucking into the food being cooked for elephants at the Ambanis’ private zoo in Jamnagar. (The compassionate groom has apparently taken upon himself the task of ‘rescuing’ animals, especially pachyderms, healthy, old, injured or abandoned.)

The TV anchor declared that the khichdi being cooked for the elephants tasted better than his lunch, and since the elephants were also being given watermelon juice and an assortment of sweet laddoos, it was perhaps tempting to taste and tell.

Pests in the ‘independent’ media, however, played spoilsport and raised disconcerting questions. Why was a private zoo allowed in the first place, they asked (silly question, because in Bharat, the rich are above the law). A few reminded us of Mohammed Arif in Amethi, Uttar Pradesh, who nursed an injured sarus crane back to good health, only to find that it would not go back to the wild.

The sarus crane accompanied Arif everywhere, often flying behind his motorcycle. Wildlife authorities woke up to media reports and took the crane away and confined it to an enclosure. But then Arif was not India’s richest man.

The artificial jungle at Moti Khavdi, 35 kilometres from Jamnagar on the India–Pakistan border, is a marvel. It is said to have 10 million trees and Asia’s largest mango orchard. The zoo also looks after 181 elephants donated to a religious trust by ‘circuses, temples and individuals’.

There have been protests reported from Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Tripura and Odisha against alleged illegal transportation of elephants, including tuskers, to Gujarat. The Tripura High Court appointed an eight-member fact-finding committee headed by a former judge, while Odisha’s forest department initiated an inquiry into the fake NOCs (no-objection certificates) used for transporting elephants out of the state.

Protesters in Guwahati objected to the transfer of protected animals from their government zoo to the world’s largest private zoo in Jamnagar. Citing the annual report 2022–23 of the Trust managing it, a Newslaundry report pointed out that 1,461 out of the total of 3,889 animals were endangered and protected.

The CZA (Central Zoo Authority) has allowed the import of 286 animals of 17 species from a zoo in Mexico. This includes 50 hybrid Bengal tigers, 50 hybrid lions and American flamingos, 16 anteaters (eight each of two different kinds), 12 African cheetahs, 10 jaguars and as many leopards, cougars, ocelots, margays, Mexican hairy dwarf porcupines, jaguarundis, American black bears, bobcats, Linnaeus’s two-toed sloth, and eight brown bears.


Anirudh Kejriwal
Anirudh Kejriwal

Heartbreak homes

He shifted to Gujarat, he said, captivated by the prime minister’s grand vision and the promise of GIFT city. The young man, a vice president with J.P. Morgan, liked what he saw, decided to buy an apartment and paid the advance.

A vegetarian and a Baniya by caste who had lived in Mumbai for years, he did not anticipate any trouble, being neither Muslim nor Dalit. This is the story of Anirudh Kejriwal, who posted on X: ‘I have been barred from moving in, not because of anything I’ve done, but because I wasn’t born a Gujarati. Worse yet, I’m warned that even if I manage to get in, happiness will be out of reach, and troubles will follow.’

The apartment owner told media that Kejriwal would get his advance back. Kejriwal posted that the delay in getting an NOC from the society was the first inkling that all was not well.

‘My concerns were confirmed when the society’s chairman and management openly stated their refusal to allow people from ‘other’ castes to move in… the situation escalated quickly with nearly 30 people gathering, threatening me with dire consequences if I proceeded. They demanded proofs of ancestry and caste, to which, under pressure, I complied…’

After going public on 25 February, Kejriwal has maintained radio silence on social media. This young banker’s nightmare is par for the course for those living in Gujarat. Tenants have been told that they would have to vacate if egg shells are found in their dustbins.

They are required to submit a declaration that their non-Hindu friends, especially Muslims, if any, would not visit; that plumbers, mechanics and electricians would be engaged only from society-approved panels.  

God’s GIFT to humanity? More like the road to hell.


Who are the drug lords?

In the last week of February, the Indian Navy, aided by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB), seized a suspicious Iranian dhow carrying 3,089 kg of charas, 158 kg of methamphetamine and 25 kg of morphine. In the international market, one kilogram of charas is priced at Rs 7 crore.

While the Union home minister Amit Shah commended personnel for this ‘historic’ haul—said to be the largest to date—the activity of international drug cartels on the west coast of India, especially along the Gujarat coast, is disturbing. Nobody knows the quantity of contraband going undetected or the percentage being seized.

Clearly, the drug cartels would not send such consignments without recovering part of the total cost. So, who are the drug lords and who is making the payments? Are there Indians among them and where are the drugs headed to? Too many unanswered questions.


The famous ‘Gujarat model’

Why are people from the state trying to migrate illegally to the UK, Canada and the US, if the ‘Gujarat model’ of development is all it’s cracked up to be? Among the growing numbers of Indians caught trying to illegally enter the US, a high number is from Gujarat, where the BJP has been in power from 1995.

For a dipstick measure of the state’s achievements during the BJP’s extended run in power, consider its monthly per capita expenditure (MPCE)—in the state’s rural areas, it is Rs 3,798, just a touch higher than the all-India average (Rs 3,773); and for urban Gujarat, Rs 6,621 against the national average of Rs 6,459.

Higher and technical education is privatised and expensive, with 508 new nursing schools approved in the past two years, of which only one is run by the state government. While 390,000 people had qualified in teacher eligibility tests, as per data tabled in the assembly, there are 5,940 vacant posts of teachers in government higher secondary schools and 3,260 posts in secondary schools. Go figure.

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