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! 


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