Evening at Zambezi River, Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, May 2015
and so does everything around... the situation, the people, the perspective, the needs.... and we too change.... the wise and courageous seek change.. because only change is constant!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

209. General Elections 2014: Part 3: AK in Mumbai (2)

I know that Loksabha constituencies are big; but when I looked at Mumbai North East Constituency I realized how “big” they really are. North East Mumbai entails six Assembly constituencies – Shivaji Nagar (Mankhurd), Mulund, Ghatkopar (East), Ghatkopar (West), Vikroli and Bhandup. In 2009, there were 16 lakh registered voters in the constituency – I remember to have read somewhere that 4 lakh more voters have been added to this constituency. Any Road Show cannot have a dialogue with 20 lakh voters spread over six suburbs of Mumbai. Of course it is clear that not all the voters are supporters of Medhatai (they are not supporters of any one candidate or a single party for that matter). So, to conduct AK rally in the parts where there is more support was clear and made a better sense.

AK’s program was well planned. At five forty in the evening he was to reach Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar, from their reach Ghatkopar’s Ramabai Nagar via Shivaji Nagar. Then he was to address public meeting in Vikroli. According to election code of conduct, the campaign has to end at 10.00 pm. So, in short AK was visiting three assembly constituencies – to be more specific he was to show himself to the people of three assembly constituencies. In two Loksabha constituencies South Mumbai and South Central Mumbai AK had spent two and half hours; and in one LS constituency he was almost spending four and half hours. Does AAP cadre too feel that AAP has better chances in Mumbai North East constituency and has it influenced AK’s schedule in Mumbai? I was little curious.

After taking turn for Mankhurd, we asked the police personnel regarding the rally and it was easy to get the address of the spot from the police. On the left hand side we saw crowd – lot of them wearing AAP caps, so we stopped there. Around 500 people had gathered here. Women’s presence was substantial. Young, adult, middle aged, old – men and women represented all age groups. I immediately noted presence of Muslim women due to their burkha and it was nice to see them confidently smiling with AAP caps.

When we talked to people, I came to know that this area was Mandala. Even after living in Mumbai for many years, I had never been to this area. In fact the whole evening brought out the “invisible” Mumbai to me.

In December 2004, more than 85000 households in the area were threatened to be destroyed as Slum Rehabilitation plan. If we assume that the average number of people in household is six or seven; then it means that more than five and half lakh people were to be thrown out of their houses due to the plan. Luckily for the local, the court accepted the “Right to Live” and people somehow managed to reconstruct and live. But in 2005 bulldozers appeared, police lath charged the crowds and hundreds of houses were destroyed by fire.

The Mankhurd area there are many slums and most of the people in the area are poor. They can’t afford to have a home in the main city and so are thrown on the periphery of the metro city. With poverty comes illiteracy, health issues, child mortality and many other problems. In 2004-2005, “Ghar Bachao, Ghar Banao Andolan” (Movement for saving and constructing houses) was established in the area and the volunteers approached Medhatai for her support. Since then Medhatai is working with the people in the area. Right to housing, Right to Land for housing and the fight of these people for these rights is a subject which needs a separate article. But that evening I realized that I do not know much about Medhatai work in the urban area and especially her work with urban poor. I had thought, “Why instead of contesting from Narmada dam area she is contesting from a city like Mumbai?” – The evening provided me with some clues.

AK, Medhatai and others arrived at Mandala and they were enthusiastically received by the crowds. We moved to Anna Bhau Sathe Nagar where again there were large number of people waiting for AK and Medhatai. The atmosphere was charged with songs and slogans. One man told me, “We are waiting from four in the afternoon.” The people who had come here must be working on daily wages and they must have taken half a day off just to support AAP. I spoke to few people. Medhatai is the candidate, she represents AAP, broom is the symbol of AAP and AK is coming today – almost everybody knew these facts. Here too “Ghar Bachao Ghar Banao Andolan’ is very active. This area has more than three thousand zuggis. Even after six years of the movement, in May 2010, 400 houses were destroyed and 100 were burnt in fire. People organized a protest for more than a week and reconstructed the houses with the help of participatory group labor. Medhatai was with the people then. On one side we are pushing rural people to cities as there are no livelihood opportunities in rural areas; and once they come and settle in the cities, we want to push them out of the cities. Where should they go? These are not small numbers – but large number of people are being cornered like this.

The rally route had many such slum areas – Rafik Nagar, Sanjay Nagar, Indira Nagar … 19 such slums. I met many people who are working with Medhatai for more than a decade. It was good to know that those who know the problems of the people were seeking a democratic solution by actively participating in politics.
Here when AK and Medhatai arrived, AK garlanded Anna Bhau Sathe’ statue but here too he did not speak with people.

It was becoming more difficult to participate in the rally because of many reasons. The rally is expected to have a very limited number of vehicles, so we could not join in our taxi, specifically hired for the purpose. The rally route was not of a walking distance. In the afternoon, we had walked about four and half kilometers, still I did not mind walking. But what was the purpose in following AK when he was not going to speak at all? By the time I was talking to people; AK had already moved away. We still walked and tried to reach the rally and we saw a mass of people.

Surprisingly, this crowd was without AAP caps. When we reached near, I was surprised to hear slogans like “Kejariwal, Go Back”, “Down with Kejariwal” and so on.

My friend hurriedly removed the AAP cap he was proudly wearing so far. When we reached near the mass we realized that it was a mob of at least 70 to 80 people – holding black flags and raising slogans against Kejariwal. There were sufficient numbers of police personnel with this rally as well. AK and AAP group was not seen anywhere. A man on the road told me that “these were Congress supporters”. Later a police told me that “they were Samajwadi party supporters”. Maybe, there were both these groups. Later I was sharing this with AAP volunteers and one of them said, “Didi, don’t worry. Hardly five ten people were shouting”. Now I had seen more than 70 people – but AAP in its characteristic way was happy to ignore any opposition and happy within their own world! How fast AAP is becoming like any other existing political parties, I am really concerned about it!

There was not much of a traffic jam – at most people had to wait for ten more minutes. The roads are wide enough in the area, there were not many local vehicles and hence there was no traffic jam. Another fact could be there were not many people in the rally to affect the traffic. We kept on walking for half an hour. How did I see Mumbai?

Potholes on footpaths,  choked drainage, shops at the sides of open drainage, human excreta spread on the footpaths, children (and even men) urinating on the roads, garbage on the footpath and people steering though all this. Is this a city? Is this Mumbai? Basic amenities are not available to people in this city. If there are no toilets for lakhs of people, they are forced to use the roads. I am not justifying unhygienic behavior of people; I am just trying to understand what could be leading people to live in an unhygienic way! Urban development should be the major discussion point in the elections. I need to keep watch on manifesto of all the parties – especially on their plan for urban development as well.

After getting tired of walking, we finally hired an auto rickshaw to reach Kannamwar Nagar where AK was to address a public meeting. According to the auto driver, “Congress will have the last laugh”.  He is from Gorakhpur but for the last twenty years is in Mumbai. When I asked him about voting, he told that he was undecided about it. “What would be your criteria?” I asked, and he said, “Controlling price”. He added, “Congress has destroyed our country but “our” Mulayamjee is not behind in the competition. He also said that people don’t decide in advance about whom to vote. His comment come question, “Kejariwal is raising hopes, but will he be responsible enough if we vote for him?” silenced me.

By the time we reached Vikroli, the public meeting was already on. The mob was disciplined – chairs were occupied and many people were also standing at both the sides. AAP candidates from other constituencies were also present – Mr. Sanjeev Sane from Thane, Mr. Vijay Pandhare from Nasik, Mr. Nandu Madhv from Beed.

Medhatai’s speech was well received by the audience and I also liked it. Later Mr. Mayank Gandhi spoke about “providing each family 450 square feet house; with two bathrooms” which I found vary funny. I mean the way political parties make unrealistic promises – AAP is following the well set path! AK speech was covered by the media, so I am not repeating it. However, I found overall that AK’s speech was centered on himself. He spoke about 49 days in Delhi (good), about Mr. Modi (bad), about Mr. Ambani (bad) – nothing new in his speech. He even forgot to speak about his candidates. He mentioned Medhatai only once (it was her constituency that he was in) and he called her Medha Patekar (instead of Patkar). What kind of leader is AK – who does not know even the names of his candidates? And Medhatai is a well-known activist! During the day I felt the “disconnect” of Mr. Kejariwal.

How many people attended public meeting at Vikroli?

There were twenty chairs in a row. There were approximately 100 rows. So, it amounts to 2000 people. Assuming that there were more rows – we can safely say 3000 people. 500 people sitting on the floor makes it 3500. About 1000 people were standing – that makes it 4500. With all optimistic additions the number will not cross 6000 – many were AAP volunteers from different places, AAP candidates and their supporters from various constituencies; police personnel, LIB, outsiders like us – so half of them already were AAP supporters. In a mega city like a Mumbai what does 6000 mean?

AK might be saying that AAP will win 100 seats (again a game like any other political party), but he must know the truth. Even in Mumbai, only Medhatai seems to have a chance, forget about the other candidates. Even Medhatai has a challenge to convert people’s support into votes.

After the meeting was over, candidates were surrounded by crowds. It was good to see young and old, women and men coming forward for conversation with candidates.

Will Mumbai support AK? Has Mumbai accepted AAP? What does Mumbai expect from AAP? Will Mumbai vote for AAP? Some indicative answers were received during the day. If AAP reflects and is honest, it can still move away with these answers in a positive manner. The main question is: is AAP willing to reflect? Is AAP willing to learn and change for better?

AAP’s strength is its candidates. AAP has more candidates with better social commitment, ideology and better connection with ground realities. Even if a few of them are elected, AAP will become more people-centric and not remain AK-centric as it is today. Let us hope for the best! 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

208. General Elections 2014: Part 2: AK in Mumbai (1)

I don’t like “Road Show”. The cities already face traffic hazards, pollution and people almost daily spend lot of time on the road. In this situation when a political leader is on the “Road Show”, common people have to suffer more. I feel that if people want to demonstrate how much support they have – they better walk; at most they should use bicycle for such exhibition. Of course, nobody is bothered about my opinion, political leaders are certainly not!

Even then when I heard that Mr. Kejariwal is participating in a Road Show in Mumbai on 12th March, I decided to participate in it. I was not looking forward to “see” him or to “listen” to him. During India against Corruption days, I have seen him and listened to him at Jantar Mantar and at Ramaleela Maidan. Media might make fun of the movement as “candle sect”; but I have inspirational memories of participation of common people in that movement. Since then I have been following Aaam Adami Party (AAP) – its establishment, its strategy for Delhi Assembly elections and so on. However I don’t believe that Mr. Kejariwal is always right. I don’t worship individuals and consequently I am incapable of hating individuals.

I was going to Mumbai as I wanted to know what Mumbaikars were expecting from AAP; what were people thinking about the last four months of AAP; how were people interpreting AAP’s chances and so on. Generally media makes us blind; here was an opportunity to understand AAP and Mumbai relationship without the intervention of Media. Medhatai Patkar is contesting from North East Mumbai – I intended to know about the response she is getting.

According to media, Mr. Kejariwal (now onwards I will call him AK) was to reach Mumbai airport at 10.15 in the morning. He was to reach Andheri station by an auto rickshaw; then he was to travel to Church gate by local train. I thought this plan a little “dramatic” – I had felt so during Mr. Rahul Gandhi’s local travel train and I would feel the same for any politician’s plan of “traveling by local train in Mumbai.” The supporters ask, “The problems are of daily nature, what if people face it for another couple of hours? Why blame us?” I find such arguments funny and irritating. We don’t have to personally experience the problems (like commuting by local train) which are well known for years. Secondly, if we can’t resolve the issue, we should take care that we at least don’t add the burden on the already collapsing system. I was dismayed to see that the game that other political parties play is also being played by AK.

At 2.00 in the noon, AK was to start his rally from August Kranti Maidan. So, we reached Mumbai Central Station. One of our friends had booked taxi for us. I asked the driver “has the AK rally started?” He informed us that there was some kind of rioting at Church gate station. I was concerned about it. But as the discussion went on, I was informed that the security entry-exit doors at the station were collapsed due to overcrowding. Ok, that was not so serious. I mean the metal doors are not really that strong. Also, I have seen many passengers at Mumbai Central station entering and exiting the stations by the sides of such doors - so the security doors at times are just symbolic. This is not to justify the behavior of AAP supporters. But the media accusation that AAP supporters deliberately destroyed metal security doors was bit overstretched.
AK was to talk to press for 10 minutes at August Kranti Maidan. But when we reached near the place, the rally had already moved on. I don’t know what AK spoke to the press, or whether he spoke or not. Next day, I did not even try to find out about it.

The rally route was from Nagpada Junction to Khilafat house. Due to traffic jam, we were unable to progress; so we asked the taxi driver to directly reach at Khilafat house and we (there were three friends with me) followed the rally. From the traffic jam, the direction of the rally (I am alternatively using the words ‘Rally’ and ‘Road Show’) and after 10-15 minutes the tail of the rally was visible – the AAP caps.

Police were managing the rally by holding a long rope at the both the sides. The supporters were expected walk in between these ropes, but people were coming out of it and going into it easily. This is the usual methodology of the police. AK was seen in an open green jeep.

AK was accompanied by Ms. Medha Patkar, Ms. Meera Sannyal and Mr. Mayank Gandhi – the three AAP candidates in Mumbai. There was crowd surrounding the vehicle; some people were engaged in shake hand with the leaders and some were engaged in chanting slogans. Many supporters were accompanying on two wheelers; some were walking with banners. AAP cap holders were seen in taking a break and sipping tea and having refreshments – after the break they were joining the proceedings.

Mumbai was not as humid and hot as it generally is. Many people were standing on the road and AAP volunteers were distributing pamphlets to them. Some had come out of their shops and some were just waiting to cross the road. One AAP volunteer was distributing AAP caps, I too was offered one. I took it but kept it in my bag. Some volunteers were walking with Jhadoo (AAP symbol broom).

The police presence was strong – number of women police was good. I don’t like it when people use police force for such rally and road show; according to me it is waste and misuse of police force; they have many other tasks waiting for their time and efficiency. But can’t help. From the end of the rally to AK’s vehicle there were about 350-400 people. There might be more people in the front I thought and moved forward. However, except for few volunteers accompanying the ‘announcement vehicle’ there was no crowd at all. I realized that the rally route was planned in the Muslim majority area. If this is what AAP thinks, then this is also a kind of game that all political parties of are playing for years. Why do AAP need to play the card of religion? If AAP is here to change the system (as it claims), how it can change the system by following all the rules of the existing system? – Such questions kept on coming to me during the whole day.

Lot of people were watching the rally from their residence balconies. One of the volunteers said to me, “Since AK has challenged Modi by going into his den (Gujarat); Muslims of Mumbai will definitely support AAP.” I smiled and moved on. He may not be knowing but I know that people are curious when there is some movement on the road – it might be Ganesh festival rally, may be death may be marriage procession. At various corners people were overtly irritated by the traffic jam there were facing as the police was stopping vehicle – which was understandable.

The rally stopped somewhere. Somebody said, “AK is talking to the gathering.” However next day I read the reports that there was some confrontation between AAP volunteers and Congress cadre. I don’t know what exactly happened.

Within half an hour I realized that rally had number of supporters but also number of onlookers. The onlookers were only curious to “see” AK – wondering about who is this guy who is being talked about so much! From their presence it was hard to conclude anything about what they felt about AAP. Their faces were clueless; they did not provide any information to me.

When we reached Khilafat House, it was crowded and the gates were closed. I had assumed (why did I assume I don’t know) that AK will address the rally here. But nobody was allowed to enter. Someone informed that only 20 people have been allowed to go inside. People had walked about four kilometers – without even having a word with AK or their candidate. AAP volunteers were busy with providing drinking water.

The nature of our democracy is still a feudal one – one understand this by participating in such road show and rally. I have never understood why people want to “see” the leaders. I mean in pre-television ear “seeing your leader” made a sense –but now we watch them round the clock and still we want to “see” – that is surprising. Secondly during such events, there is no dialogue between the leader and his/her cadre. Earlier the King and the Queen used to travel in a palanquin and people used to bow. Now the leaders travel in a decorated vehicle and people shake hands or shout slogan. So, the form of the relationship only has changed, the relationship remains the same! What AAP achieved by organizing such rally – I was unable to understand.

At Khilafat house we regrouped, the taxi has arrived and was waiting for us in front of Bhayakhala police station. We started for North East Mumbai. From 5.30 onwards AK was to be North East Mumbai. We had seen the response of people in Central and South Central Mumbai so far – would be it different in North East Mumbai? We wanted to experience that and left for Mankhurd. 

To be continued ..