Election Fever and Destination Dharavi

It is summer holidays for the children and you find loud bunches of boys playing cricket on roadsides. Game paraphernalia is seen about them. Their passionate cries rise above the noise of cars and trucks. And when the batsmen is bowled out, all the boys blow whistles.

Where did you get these fluorescent whistles?

From the seeti-walla uncle, replies the adolescent bowler.

Who?

Don’t know. Some party man.

Election fever is spreading fast in Dharavi and politicians are doing their very best to buy their prime cut from the area. You sell Dharavi soil and it is gold. The Election Commission currently states that Dharavi has more than 2.3 lakh registered voters. A website that has been tracking constituency candidates states that the top 5 election issues this time are: corruption, terrorism, environmental protection, public transport and disaster management. What are Dharavi sentiments about the elections that are just a couple of days away?

A woman from Transit Camp says that ration shops are now fully operational. This wasn’t the case some 5 months ago, when you couldn’t get essential grains such as wheat and rice from the ration shops. You could get .kerosene, perhaps. The public is fully aware that once voting day comes to an end, the grains shall evacuate the ration shops and things will return to their former strained existence.

Then there is the forever deferred Dharavi Redevelopment Project (DRP), which has been a major point of debate, with political parties pulling opposite ends of the rope. Some Dharaviites have found the middle path out of this in the form of indifference masquerading as patience. One lady from Naik Nagar says, “This is just a carrot dangling in front of us. Just before the elections, Sector 5 of the DRP saw the rise of some new buildings. But, this is just a token gesture, we know. It will be stalled again when the elections are finished.”

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Politics is not a private matter of the heart here in Dharavi. Election sentiment is totally polarised on religious and caste basis and people are pretty vocal about whom they want to vote for. Their vote is not. Opposing religious factions offer each other a secular smile but a steely stare. You know who is going to vote for whom in a couple of days.

Despite this hard sentiment, rooted in religion rather than just politics, the party of hopelessness reigns supreme when you ask people about what’s going to change post-election. Nothing, they reply. So much corruption all around – is a ritual answer you will have to get used to. Major concerns heard on the streets are: water supply, 24/7 electricity supply, better infrastructure, more employment opportunities for the youth, acceptance of migrant communities, ending corruption and increased safety for women. And lastly, Dharavi being an industrial hub, everyone wants to see an end to inflation. Of course, every party has vowed to take care of this.

It was Ambedkar Jayanthi yesterday and a lady from Transit Camp says, “My neighbours, who are Dalits, wanted to make food for the community. But they couldn’t do so on the streets as the gutter that runs by our house has been overflowing for a month. This is how it will be even after elections, no matter who comes to power.” Another man from Kumbharwada says, “There are so many defunct public bathrooms all around but none that are close to your home. As a person suffering from diabetes, I have to use a bathroom frequently but I am unable to walk so far every time.”

Political parties feed on your hunger. If you participate in a rally, you are paid about Rs. 300 and get a free meal. Most Dharaviites are quick to add that this is what their neighbour has done but not they themselves. It’s a matter of pride to participate in a rally out of conviction rather than for money. And sometimes the public can be cleverer than the ploys of politicians. A man on 90 Feet Road confesses, “People wait for an hour before the polling booths close. They wait to see which politician offers the most money and then cast the vote.” But these are just momentary wins, are they not?

“If your name does not feature among those who voted,” says a Tamil shopkeeper, “then they will cancel your ration card. They check to see who has voted. That is how they have threatened us. Some people leave for their hometown, so that they can make an excuse that they were not around to vote.” The public is only partially misinformed. They all know that politicians will only look after those who are vote loyalists. The vote in our hands can work with a twisted logic – you vote not out of power but out of fear.

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