Delhi Diary: India 'Dream Girl' Criticised For Calling Mumbai Overpopulated

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By Shakir Husain

NEW DELHI, Jan 3 (Bernama) -- Indian actress and politician Hema Malini started her acting career in the 1960s and achieved stardom in the 1970s. She became known as India's "Dream Girl" after acting in a movie of the same name. It was in Mumbai, formerly known as Bombay, India's Tinseltown, where her dreams came true.

Today she is a member of parliament from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Malini has not achieved stardom in politics but she is a household name because of her Bollywood career.

In the years that saw Malini zoom to new heights of popularity, Mumbai also witnessed its phenomenal rise as the entertainment capital, financial centre, home of big businesses, and a hub for foreign trade.

Mumbai became the city where India's youth who wanted to make it big in life wanted to migrate to. Wannabe actors, skilled and unskilled workers, entrepreneurs, artists, sophisticated and unsophisticated, the city attracted all kinds of people.

Hence, it was no surprise that Malini's comments last week about restricting people from moving into the mega city drew widespread social media attention. Malini, aged 69, was born in a Tamil-speaking household in Ammankudi, Tamil Nadu, and many pointed out that she herself was a migrant to the city.

She spoke after a blaze killed 14 people at an upmarket commercial centre known as Kamala Mills on Dec 28.

Asked why stampedes and fires took place in the city, Malini said it was because of "too much" population.

"Population is so much, the city is just spreading like anything. It is uncontrollable. Some restrictions should be done on the population, first of all. Each city should have the certain population, certain limit, after that they should not be allowed. Then let them go to another city," Malini said.

That set off a firestorm of criticism, with people saying she should have talked about the inefficiencies in the city's administration rather its population.

Mumbai is the capital of BJP-ruled Maharashtra state and its municipality is controlled by the Hindu nationalist alliance of the BJP and the regional Shiv Sena party.

"Hema Malini is the antithesis of a dream girl," one person said on Twitter. "I fail to understand the connection between fire in a restaurant and the population of a city," commented another.

Many found her comments to be gratuitous and tactless. One person asked her to relocate to Mathura, the constituency she represents in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

The fire has also ignited a debate about Mumbai's decline as a commercial hub in the last three decades.

"Once upon a time this great cosmopolitan city was a brand globally... we have reduced this to an urban infrastructure nightmare," said Sanjay Jha, a spokesman for the Congress party.

Both the BJP and Shiv Sena share power in the municipality and are "equally culpable", said Milind Deora, a former Indian federal minister.

"Why promise us Smart Cities when you can't even fix the basics?" he asked in reference to the Indian government's ambitious plans to upgrade 100 cities by 2020 with features such as uninterrupted electricity and water supply, efficient public transport and high-tech infrastructure.

Mumbai is home to more than 18 million people, a majority of whom live in slums and congested neighbourhoods.

About one-third of India's 1.3 billion people live in cities and urbanisation is gathering pace, which is likely to make the existing megacities even more crowded.