Kolkata, once the capital of British India, is slowly being painted blue — the favorite color of the fiery new chief minister of the surrounding state, who has ordered a makeover.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee came to power last year after 34 years of Marxist rule promising a facelift for Kolkata, whose grand colonial architecture — much of it painted red — is crumbling after decades of neglect.
She has decreed that the city’s flyovers, park railings and many of its 100 British-era official buildings should be given a new coat of paint.
Party insiders said that blue was the favorite color of the populist chief minister, known for her temper and modest lifestyle, while it is also suggested in a new slogan for her government.
“Our leader Mamata Banerjee has decided the theme of sky blue because the motto of the new government is ‘The sky is the limit,’” West Bengal Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim said in comments published in the Indian Express on Friday.
Some police stations in Kolkata’s suburbs, painted red since the days of the British Raj, have already received a fresh blue coat, while traffic signals, street signs and even streetside tree trunks are also in line for a makeover.
“We want to bring a uniformity in painting the city,” Kolkata Mayor Sovan Chatterjee said.
In her pre-election manifesto, Banerjee promised to introduce cruises on the city’s river “in line with the River Thames of London,” plant a botanical garden and turn West Bengal’s tea-growing Darjeeling District into the “Switzerland of the East.”
City authorities are also planning to give tax breaks to private property owners who volunteer to embrace the new color code, officials said.
West Bengal Transport Minister Madan Mitra said that public vehicles including the city’s fleet of 35,000 yellow taxis would also be part of the new color scheme.
“We have plans to get private buses and taxis in the city painted in blue with a white border,” Mitra said.
Kolkata faces tough competition to make itself known as India’s “blue city,” a title held by the popular desert town of Jodhpur in Rajasthan, which draws tens of thousands of tourists each year.
Banerjee’s city landscaping efforts so far are on a far smaller scale than another female chief minister, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.
Mayawati, who goes by one name, has spent more than US$1 billion building parks of elephants — her party’s symbol — and memorials to low-caste icons, including herself.
Kolkata, then known as Calcutta, was the capital of British India from 1772 to 1912, when the colonial rulers shifted their base to New Delhi in northern India.