IF JAIPUR IN Rajasthan is pink, why should Nagpur not be orange, especially since the district has such a high density of orange orchards? So when the idea of painting the town a shade of mandarin orange was mooted as part of a Hindi newspaper’s marketing gimmick, it found much acceptance among the city’s civic corporators. The proposal was presented in the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) and passed unanimously by all political parties, including the Congress. That was back in February this year.
But when policies on paper actually get implemented, it can have curious consequences. About a fortnight ago, when students and teachers of the NMC-administered Vivekananda Primary and Secondary School located at Khamla returned after their vacations, they found their school had been painted a shade of orange. Some distance away in Jaitala, another civic-run school too got a new coat of orange paint. Both these schools are located in the constituency of BJP Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who hails from Nagpur.
News of the changed colour spread like wildfire. Soon a sizeable crowd of politicians, residents, mediapersons and anyone else who was interested came by for a look. A heated debate gripped Nagpur on whether the shade was evidence of disguised saffronisation. While the NMC stood its ground that the colour was ‘mandarin orange’, much of Nagpur felt it was too saffron. The debate has much significance to residents there as with its saffron-coloured flag, the BJP has held power in the NMC for nearly a decade now.
The city’s mayor, Pravin Datke, of the BJP, has an answer to those flaying the decision. He says, “We approached some experts. They gave us a formula to get the perfect shade of santra colour.” This was a mix of lemon yellow (70 per cent) and magenta (30 per cent) for what he calls the ‘mandarin shade’. “If extra yellow is used in the mix, it will give a saffron appearance,” adds Datke.
The Congress and Bahujan Samaj Party, which had both ratified the colour change, now see red. They have accused the BJP of ‘saffronising’ Nagpur.
Speaking to Open from Nagpur, city Congress chief and leader of the opposition in the NMC, Vikas Thakre, confirms that he was present at the meeting between the representatives of the newspaper and the corporators. “I gave my consent to paint Nagpur an orange colour. We liked the idea. Now we are opposed to the idea because it is saffron and not orange,” says Thakre.
Under the proposal, all government and civic buildings will soon get a coat of orange. Dayashankar Tiwari, a BJP leader in the NMC, is coercing the traders’ union to paint their shutters orange in keeping with the new colour code. “These are times of changing political equations. If we paint it orange, we will be branded as supporters of the BJP. If we don’t, we will face problems with the BJP-dominated civic body,” says a trader from Sitabuldi, a well-known shopping area of Nagpur, requesting anonymity.
Heritage structures in the city, which account for 25 to 30 per cent of government buildings, will retain their original colours. Sources say that the Metro Rail Corporation has indicated that signboards and proposed Metro stations in Nagpur too will be coloured orange. “It started out as an orange colour, but has now become saffron,” says a resident.
Reacting to protests from across Nagpur, Thakre has written a letter to the mayor demanding that the shade should be ‘just as it was decided’. He wants to wait and watch if the NMC will move towards colour correction. “Otherwise, we will protest against the saffronisation of Nagpur,” says Thakre.
The civic body chief, Shravan Hardikar, is reportedly keen on making the ‘Orange for Nagpur’ a people’s campaign wherein everyone would voluntarily paint their houses in that shade. But that is not finding too many takers with people preferring the original colour of their houses, bungalows and shops.
Jammu Anand, trade unionist and president of the NMC Employees Union, has a different take on Nagpur; he even questions the very idea of the orange colour. “Oranges are grown in only a small part of Nagpur district, namely Katol, Narkhed and Kalmeshwar. Narkhed has a big market and huge quantities of oranges come into this market from the neighbouring Amravati district and are sent across the country.”
According to Anand, the city’s association is more with cobras than the fruit. “If you go back in history, cobras were found all over the place. The name ‘Nagpur’ means ‘seat of the cobras’. There are mentions of this in ancient books. Even the emblem of NMC has a cobra in it. So why is there this argument about painting Nagpur orange?” asks Anand.
But that is an angle too late for insertion into the city’s identity debate. For the moment, the big question in Nagpur is whether saffron is the new orange.