Political Roulette

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[ I am no expert in matters concerning government policy, so I would appreciate it if any fellow bloggers could give additional/ more accurate information on this issue. ]

Every now and then the government authorities remember that a large percentage of Mumbai’s citizens live in slums, and that there ought to be some sort of policy about this.

So I was not surprised to read in yesterday’s newspaper that The Bombay Municipal Corporation will publish a white paper on slums built in Mumbai between 1995 and 2004.

The civic administration will undertake a survey of hutments which have been built after the official deadline of January 1, 1995.

It appears that the State Government may take a stand legalising hutments which have come up after 1995, but before 2000 or 2004, but it has not been finalised yet.

Assembly elections in Maharashtra are to be held in September, and the stand that any political party takes on this issue, will affect the number of votes they hope to get from voters of various communities.

The stakes are high in this game- so they will have be very careful while choosing the number to bet on.

Slum redevelopment is being undertaken in many parts of Mumbai. Hutments are being torn down and apartment buildings are coming up in their place. Slum dwellers are being allotted flats provided that they have been residing in legal hutments.

And the legality of their dwellings, depends on whether they have been living there from before 1995. (This cut-off date may be changed to 2000 or 2004 depending on the decision the State government takes -and on whether it takes a decision at all!).

To prove that they have been staying in Mumbai from before 1995, slum dwellers need to prove that their names are on the list of voters of the year 1995.

This reminds me of an incident that took place a few years ago- in 2003, if I remember correctly.

One morning I read in the newspaper that a fire had destroyed some houses in a slum area that I was familiar with. I was working with a group of women in that slum, and two of them lived in the particular area where the fire had taken place. I was quite worried, but it was difficult to contact them, as none of them owned a telephone.

Then I remembered that the husband of one of the ladies had given me the phone number of the shop where he worked, so I called him up.
Don’t worry, he told me, everything was fine. No one was hurt. The two families were living with relatives nearby.

I went to meet my friends a few days later, when they had their weekly meeting. Everything was fine- they told me. I asked them about the two women and their families whose homes were caught in the fire, and if all their belongings had been destroyed. No, they had kept their valuables at a friend’s house the previous day– came the answer.

Another friend told me that since the ration cards of the people living there had been burnt in the fire, they would get new ones.

Now that the hutments in the area were destroyed, a couple of buildings would probably come up there.

After a while, the two ladies whose homes had been burnt down came there- wearing green- bordered saffron sarees with lotuses on the borders. Seeing my questioning glance, one of them told me that BJP workers had given them these sarees because their own had been destroyed.

No saffron,white and green sarees with the hand symbol on the pallu? I asked.
Oh yes, Congress workers had given them those sarees too, they told me.

Seems political parties never waste a chance to advertise!

They were still living in temporary homes, when I had to stop going there because of my illness.

I have no idea whether they did ever did get flats in the new buildings. I do not know whether a new ration card showing their residence before 1995 would be enough for this. I did not ask them if their names were on the voters list of 1995. If they were not, I do not think that the list could be manipulated.

Perhaps it was never intended that they get new flats. Perhaps the whole thing was a ploy by the local Dada maybe employed by the builders, to make them leave their homes. Who knows what he had promised them? And for what consideration?

I do know one thing though. No one should be forced to live in this way in their own country. No one should be forced to do the things they had to do, just so that they could stay in the city. No children should have to see their homes burnt down before their eyes.

These slum dwellers had come to Mumbai, not to become rich, but because they could no longer make a living in their villages. They had come in order to secure a better life for their families. They had come so that their children could get a better education than had been possible for themselves.

Is it wrong to expect policy decisions to be taken, keeping the needs of the people in mind?

I know that there are many difficult issues involved. Mumbai City is obviously extremely overcrowded, and will soon sink under its own weight if the influx of people is not stopped. But should the government not think of improving conditions in the villages, so that people will voluntarily stay there?

Must politicians always forget that these are living human beings, and not mere pawns in their political games?
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15 thoughts on “Political Roulette”

  1. Politics is a different being. And it envelopes politicians with an ease thats both disturbing and omnipresent. You make an important point, when you talk of how slum dwellers are looked at as 'pawns'. I think as a society, the 'haves' have come to look down upon the 'have nots' ! Taking for granted all that comes by their way. And politicians are ofcourse, part of the 'haves' ! And seeking out the most manipulatable section of the society sure does lead them to the doorstep of the slum. I dont know where to stop. Or start infact ! you make me think. As usual.

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  2. Manju, it seems the Delhi trick is now being tried out in Mumbai too. Here, around election time unauthorised colonies are regularised and the government in power at that time reaps the benefit. This has been going on for decades but more and more such colonies keep coming up at a furious pace right under the watchful and protective eyes of politicians looking for votes. So, first they get votes for allowing them to come up on mostly government land and after a few years, then they do so again by regularising them. There is another scam too. Often those slum dwellers who are give alternate plots elsewhere, build houses on them and let them out. And for themselves they find or create another slum…the cycle goes on. City planning, laws, rules etc are all forgotten. Everybody is happy. Only the city gets uglier.This migration to cities is not going to slow down in a hurry because existing and new cities are the engines of growth and opportunity. What is required is that this should be "regulated" not by rules but by planning new economic activity in newer areas that are away from the congested centers of cities. That is happening in Delhi, and I think to some extent in Mumbai too, right up to Karjat and other places that were once far off. I am sure it can be managed better. But as you know, when politicians plan, they keep one eye on electoral benefit.

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  3. 'Must politicians always forget that these are living human beings, and not mere pawns in their political games?' – I think this is the key.. Most of our govt policies have short term gains in view rather than long term, sustainable gains.. Most governments think of how best to maximise their electoral benefits, rather the what is best for the people – in the long term.. And slowly, people learn to make most of what they have, I guess. Slum dwellers learn how to play along with the politcal gains so that they do not lose out.. You are right – nobdoy should be made to live like this.. But who cares? – the people who could make a difference, certainly don't seem to.

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  4. Our politicians are shameless entities who know only 2 things. Power and money. Any means to achieve those, are supposed to be OK. Get goondas to burn slums . Fine. Promising slumdwellers fake rationcards after burning their houses, kills two birds with a single stroke. Building up Vote banks and the favouring the builder lobby. Now they are even messing round with education. Entire careers are skewed because these politicians play games at college and school admission time. You think fellows with such mercenary mindsets really care about any have-nots ? Its all about excessive "haves "…. (i wouldnt want to be a student today ).

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  5. Kavi– It's such a complicated situation. And made worse by the reality that politicians do not take the interests of the people into consideration when formulating policies.Vinodji– The situations in Delhi and Mumbai are probably similar.One extra complicating factor here, is that the Bombay Municipal Corporation is controlled by the Shiv Sena, while the Congress- NCP are in power at the State level.Smitha– Formerly I used to think that the slum dwellers were at fault for trying to manipulate the system.But having seen their struggles just to survive, I blame the politicians/ builders/Dadas for taking advantage of their helplessness.Ugich Konitari– Yes, the recent SSC- ICSC quota drama was quite disgraceful. No sector is safe from politicians' games, it appears!

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  6. Manju, exploitation of the poorest section of society – the slum dwellers – it is pathetic to say the least. Here again, it is the street-smart lad who will exploit the Govt's schemes to get multiple allotments after selling off their alloted SRA flat, while some continue to languish because of lack of adequate papers! Only god can save us, I guess!

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  7. Everybody is a pawn…people in the lower strata of society are the worst sufferers…who is to blame..we have to blame ourselves…politicians are not creatures who have come from space? they are also one among us ….each one us are culprits and to change the politicians ,we have to change ourselves..

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  8. It is really sad that politician today equals 'manipulator', 'string-puller', 'power-hungry' and 'unscrupulous', rather than the earlier connotation of 'statesman' or 'leader'. So, it is no wonder that they seek to pay lip service than do social service.

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  9. Gopinathji– And those who successfully exploit government schemes are able to do so only because of the 'blessings' of influential local politicians…Sunder– I agree, politicians have come up from amongst us- we are to blame for supporting them for our own short-term gains. Yes, there is need to change ourselves.Sucharita– Things do seem to be getting worse day by day…

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  10. Survival of the fittest – this prevails in the slum dwellers also. A sort of leader comes out from the slum colony and he collaborates with the politician before election and makes money/get new flat allotments in exchange for votes for the concerned politician. Once that election is over and they keep dormant again for sometime and the same method is followed for the next election. Yes, the weaker section of the people will be living in the gutter, always.This can be controlled only when we think twice before selecting a person during election to vote. More than the party, we should look into the character of the candidate – if he has got guts to stand up to bring reforms for his constituency etc. People like Shibu Soren and Mayavathi should be eliminated. Will we do it in the future? Otherwise, we have to bear everything like we were doing all these years, Manju.Your experience with the slum dwellers says that we are outsiders even if we try to help them. They will heed to their own leader and no one else. If they are lucky, they will get a good and sincere leader. Otherwise, the weaker people will suffer.

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  11. One thing I know is, Slums are ignored and they are leading a life without any basic amenities there…politicians will surely make their visit there during elections as they are the ones who always come forward to vote without fail..and this policy seems to be a move towards that ji.. if the ruling party decides before 1995 then the opposition will protest against it and will give a promise of extending it till 2004.. 😦 these game never ends

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  12. Sandhya– You are right, it is survival of the fittest, unfortunately.I always feel that if there is good governance in a democracy, even the weak should get a good deal….Kanagu– Yes, these political games never end…

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  13. Manju,slums and slum dwellers both have been used and misused by the political class for political gains.Similarly,slumdwellers use the nstas during elections.Illegal colonies/slums have become an important vote gainer during elections.What we all fail to ask is-how did all these slums mushroomed overnight.I have stayed in Bombay for years and seen the games that have played on slums issues.No political pandit can give answers to various points that may be raised.

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  14. Chowlaji– Yes, both parties manipulate each other for personal gain. It is usually in the present season (beginning of monsoons) that the slums come up. It seems that the authorities are not permitted to tear down illegal residential structures during the monsoons on humanitarian grounds. And once the structures come up….BTW- I have not been able to comment on your blog for a few days- Blogger problems, probably.

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