Spotlight: Maharashtra Assembly Elections

(co-written with Sharmista Chaudhury and Swagata Yadavar)

Mustafa Shaikh, a shopkeeper from Sewri, who is a card holding Congress worker, and a bunch of his Muslim compatriots are ready to jump ship. “Have those Shiv Sena cards come by? I had filled my application last week,” he asks his friends as they wonder about their own applications. Over the past few years Sewri has become a developer’s paradise even managing to get it nom de development, New Cuffe Parade. This gentrification does not impress lay men like Shaikh. “You will only see new buildings, there are no public facilities, the roads are still bad and I do not think the Congress- NCP does much,” he says.

While Shaikh is an irate citizen, finding people in Mumbai who care about the Maharashtra elections can be a tough task. This time around as we went across constituencies, we found the same sentiment, there was political apathy but we also found a growing impatience with the current government. Mumbaikars aren’t ones for nuanced discussions or debates around the government, their demands are that of the everyman, corruption-free government, better employment opportunities, better road infrastructure and control over price rise. There is a certain resignation about leadership in the city. Ask people who they would want to bring to power and the question usually draws a blank, “Anyway all of them are chors (thieves),” says the first person we meet on our journey across Mumbai’s harbour line. Along the 16 stations from Vashi to CST, there were many who held that opinion, these elected representatives will all steal, perhaps we must find someone who would also work a little bit.

“The chief minister is good, but he is accompanied by crooks, if Congress had a better team then they would stand a chance ”says Rajendra Tanwar a retired bank employee from Vashi , “BJP and Shiv Sena should really solve their seat sharing problem.” he adds. The tone for the journey, across the harbour line resonated these words in some form or the other. The four parties battling for Maharashtra, Congress, National Congress Party, Shiv Sena and BJP do not evoke much interest in the public. After fifteen years of seeing the Congress- NCP manage the state and by extension the city, people are not as angry with the present government but eager to pass the baton on. It is time, seems to be the general consensus among the people.

Has Mumbai changed a lot over the past ten years? A question many commuters answer with a nonchalant, ‘maybe.’ At Wadala, Prakash Bhoir who will like to see Shiv Sena come to power says Wadala is unrecognisable from the 1970s when he first came to Mumbai. The roads are better connected, there is water and electricity even in the slums. Mankhurd, one of the few stations in Mumbai that wear a one horse station look and not a lot of bustle around it may want to vote Shiv Sena to power this time, “We have been voting for NCP, but there has been no visible progress here, no road, no water, all these basic amenities are missing,” says Rajaram Gupta, a security personnel. There are some who are falling for the dream that BJP’s Modi Sarkaar has been trying to sell. However at Tilak Nagar, Dr. Prasahnt Patil, a scientist doesn’t hold any grudges against the current government, “I think the Congress- NCP alliance has done some good job, land cost has appreciated for a reason right? There is development. Today a one room kitchen in this area would cost 80-90 lacs, it would have cost Rs 9 lacs ten years ago.” he says. Better road infrastructure in the form of the freeway and the anticipation of more such projects is good news for development but it is apparent that this development is not for everyone, “I do not know how inclusive this development has been. I mean the recent irrigation scam where after spending Rs 40,000 only 0.5% of the land was irrigated. Clearly their idea of growth is not for all” he says.

Image via Google Images
Image via Google Images

But while an erudite Prashant Patil thinks of the scams beleaguering the government, Maruti Tawde, a passerby at Tilak Nagar station who somehow retains his country bumpkin persona would much prefer a known devil to an unknown angel, “What has Modi Sarkar done? I come from Pawar’s village, and I think because they are old players they know how to govern better.” he says. There are old allegiances to honour in Mumbai too, in a muslim dominated area like Govandi, Abu Azmi still holds a lot of clout. Samina Shaikh is sure Congress-NCP will come to power, is she happy with the work done? “No,” is her reply, is she going to vote for the present government, “I cannot take a decision yet,” she says but her allegiance is clear.

Borivali could either be in Gujarat, Goa or Maharashtra. Largely occupied by Gujaratis, East Indians and Maharashtrians this suburb has the local beef mutton chicken stores and churches a stones throw away from a Swaminnarayan temple. Their complaints however, bring them together. Water shortage, garbage disposal and illegal encroachments are on everyone’s mind. A resident of the Yogi Nagar area, Jagdish Kapadia, 66, says that he has lost interest to even cast his vote, thanks to the rising prices and the increasing number of scams that are flashed every day in the news. “My children’s salaries are not increasing, only prices of essential goods are,” he rues. Moving south to Malad by train, the list of problems seems to keep increasing. Collin Furtado, 26, of Orlem, adds traffic and bad maintenance of roads to the already mentioned woes. However, Furtado rates a corruption-free government at the top of his wish list for the next government.

As we reach Andheri, the largest and busiest suburb in the city, most voters place emphasis on the quality of the roads as their priority. “We get stuck for hours just because of these bad roads,” says Sunil Salunke, 30, an employee at the Chatrapati Shivaji Airport. He also wishes that the next government should look into the issues faced by the migrant workers of the area and make sure that they have enough employment opportunities and ID proofs to claim social security benefits. Next in the western line is Bandra, home to the film industry, where most residents praise the efforts taken by the current MLA Baba Siddqui. Reshma Motiwala, 44, praises him for his accesibility, adding that whoever succeeds him should take similar efforts to make sure that the promises they make during election time are rightly implemented.

Majority of the residents from the Shiv Sena bastion of Dadar and Mumbai Central seem more than pleased with the quick response of their leaders to their problems. There were a few strong voices that opposed this, too, like that of 36-year-old nurse Kalpana More, who expressed anger over the copious amounts of money spent on celebrations like Ganesh Chaturti and Dahi Handi in the area. “Here the common man is struggling to make ends meet and instead of feeding him, the government is showering all the money on such useless festivals,” says More. “What good will it do to the hungry and the unemployed?” More wishes to see a dip in the prices of essential household goods and better bus connectivity in the area. Agrees Manohar Deshpande, 60, a hotelier, who feels that corruption is the root of all problems faced by the common man. “What we need is not a change in leaders, but a full-fledged revamp in our system,” says Deshpande. “Good governance practices are the need of the hour.”

Mumbaikars waiting to vote Image via Google Images
Mumbaikars waiting to vote
Image via Google Images

Although it gets its name from the local Shiva temple, Nagpada is a hub of the Muslim community. Young and old, most voters of the area are impressed by the ways of MLA Amin Patel. “He is connected to the youth via Twitter and other social networking sites,” says 22-year-old law student Adhil Qureshi. This ease of access and a solution to the garbage problem ranks high on their wishlist. Moving to south Mumbai, one sees an atmosphere of religious harmony and brotherhood among the people.

Down south, Mumbai is ready to move beyond petty political mores and look at the real issues at hand. Residents of Colaba take pride in saying that despite the efforts of various political parties to polarise them, there has never been any religious friction in the area. Vaibhav Nakhawa, 40, a fitness consultant from the Koli community, lists education, health and proper sanitation as the main focus areas of the area.

After the landslide victory of the BJP in the Lok Sabha elections and with Modi taking charge as PM, the party seems to have found support from the unlikeliest quarters. Young muslims like Qureshi feel that Modi’s name is now synonymous to good governance and a BJP government at the state would aid in better co-ordination with the Centre. Agrees Murtuza Rajkotwala, 47, a businessman from Colaba, who says, “We are sure that he [Modi] will now take special care of the problems faced by Muslims because of all the criticism raised against him.” Most in the western suburbs see a fallout in the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance unlikely and feel that after having worked hard enough for the area, both parties would compromise on the power-sharing equations. Voters from Shiv Sena strongholds are unabashed in their support for the party and a strong anti-incumbency wave against ruling Congress-NCP government is felt throughout these constituencies.

However, those hailing from the minorities, like the East Indians and a few muslims, still are not convinced enough to place their bets on Modi and the BJP. “The Shiv Sena-BJP alliance runs the BMC and there has been very little progress in terms of garbage collection or road repair,” says Furtado. Their rule might work in other states, Maharashtra is in good hands, feels Faiq Khan of Nal Bazaar.

The largely middle class locality comprising of Gujaratis and South Indians, Mulund has also got a face lift with number of shopping malls giving it a hip image. Chetan Vidhoshi, 44, Businessman, from Veena nagar in Mulund West says bad roads and electricity are major issues in Mulund, “There are huge crater like potholes in Mulund but the repair work is shoddy and within a few days, the roads look same as before.” He was however happy with MLA Sardar Tara Singh of BJP and saw him as being very accessible. Pradip Kajwe who owns a newspaper stall in Bhandup says we have seen years of Congress-NCP and we need to see what Sena-BJP can do. However they are disillusioned with talks of the Sena-BJP alliance breaking, “If they are fighting so much before coming to power, what will they do after they come to power? This is not democracy” said Paban Pathare, 53 from Mulund.

Kurla has remained a slum dominated and over-crowded suburb whose garbage and civic problems stay unresolved say residents. 24-year old Reshma Merchant says her family of three is planning to move from Kurla due to the filth and unhygienic surroundings which are breeding ground for diseases.

Things are not looking so well even in Lower Parel which is characterised by old mills redeveloped as corporate high rises. “Lower Parel is incredibly congested due to the office goers but the infrastructure hasn’t changed, roads are extremely narrow and there is no open space because of high realty rates” says 60 year old Chaya Sakharkar who has moved here from Borivali. “The high cost of living has forced the actual chawl residents to rent out their houses they have got after redevelopment and give them out on rent” she adds. Kiran Parab, 40 from Parel has a clear wishlist from the government, he wants better health facility and free education for kids, he is not happy with MNS MLA Bala Nandgaokar who he says has done little for development.

At Byculla which houses majority lower- middle class Muslim population, 36 year old housewife Shahjahan Sayyed says price rise is her biggest worry. She has to commute to all the way to far off Mumbra to etch mehendis in weddings for getting additional income. “There are more facilities and regular water supply in slums than in buildings where we stay” she says. However some residents would like Pravin Patel from Byculla says he would like to see Congress in power, “The behaviour of Sena is not good. The Shiv sena MLA from our area is not active.” There were also a large majority of people like 24-year old Mohammed Mustafa who owns a paanshop in Kurla who do not mind voting for anyone as long as they do the work and make a difference.

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