For the 10 lakh residents of Dharavi, India’s most famous slum, elections are inconsequential.
Governments may change but not much changes here.
Ramlautan Gupta (58) who lives in Dharavi since the last 50 years was first promised redevelopment and better standard of living by Rajiv Gandhi when he visited his 80 square-foot room as a part of a nationwide padayatra in 1984. But 25 years later, Gupta does not know what happened to the promise.
Gandhi had then announced a Rs 100-crore development project for the Dharavi slums. Many other politicians after him have milked this vote bank dry on the same promise.
“I have heard about the redevelopment project only through newspapers or other organisations that work here. None of these politicians want to know what we want,” said Gupta who lives with his wife and seven children in his shanty.
For 80,000 such families redevelopment does not only promises more space, also means a better environment for their children. “It is extremely difficult to live in such conditions. They are not favourable for an individual’s growth,” said Radheshyam Gupta (30) the eldest of Gupta’s seven children who works in a bank.
The Rs15,000-crore redevelopment projects that will see one lakh tenements razed to the ground and its residents relocated to apartment complexes with an area of 300 square feet will be one of the key issue which will influence the voting pattern the slum on October 13.
The Dharavi constituency is spread across 175 hectares and includes parts of Sion, Bandra, Kalina, Kurla and Mahim, where it is flanked by the Mithi river.
It is a micro India with macro problems. The census-defying slum houses six lakh residents, of whom 2.55 lakh are
registered voters. The Dharavi assembly segment, a product of delimitation, has always been a Congress fiefdom.
This year, the popular candidates who are contesting from the constituency are Congress’ Varsha Gaikwad–daughter of Eknath Gaikwad, Member of Parliament from the Mumbai South Central constituency—former corporator Vishnu Gaikwad a four-time corporator from the Congress party but will contest from the Bahujan Samaj Party since Congress denied him a ticket, and Shiv Sena’s Manohar Raibage who is relatively unknown in the constituency.
According to data available with the Association for Democratic Reforms not a single candidate of the ten who are contesting from this underbelly of the city has a criminal record.
However, the youth from this area is now questioning the performance of sitting Congress MLA Varsha Gaikwad in the last five years. “They have constructed toilets, but sanitation problems are still persistent. More than 10 lakh people live here but there is no school or college,” said Shahid Alam (28) a clerk with a private firm.
The Sena has, in the past couple of years, cashed in on discontent against the project, offering slumdwellers larger free homes among other things.