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September 10, 1999


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Constituency/ Mumbai South-Central

Angry mill workers may do in Mohan Rawle

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay

When Mohan Rawle first won the Lok Sabha election in 1991 against veteran trade unionist Dr Datta Samant, the voters could be forgiven for hoping that being the son of a mill worker, he might have a solution to the city's dying textile mills. That was a misplaced hope.

Proving the adage that hope springs eternal in the voter's heart, in 1996 as well he was sent back to Parliament, perhaps because the state government was also being ruled by the Shiv Sena-BJP combine then, which people felt would mean an easier solution for their problems. But once again, they were wrong.

Frustrated and angry with Rawle's non-performance, the people of the constituency decided to teach him a lesson in 1998, when they voted with their feet: He managed to retain the South Central seat by a narrow margin of 153 votes, against the Samajwadi Party's first-time candidate, Suhail Lokhandwala.

A walk through the gullies of Chinchpokli, Parel and Sewree -- the heartland of Bombay's textiledom -- explains the public disenchantment.

Huge chimneys that once belched out smoke, are still. Enormous compounds, housing within them huge machinery and the like that must have kept up a steady hum of activity once, are silent. Children dressed for school are about, the traffic is not congested, and handcart pullers or sabziwallahs can be seen on the roads. A clutch of old men, doing nothing but shooting the breeze, dot the bylanes. There is no visible prosperity, save the new-fangled superstructures that house the city's arriviste chatterati.

Says Sudhakar Nikam, a worker at Swan mill, "We have trusted the Sena and Rawle, believing he is a mill worker's son, but for eight years he has done nothing for us."

Rawle, on his padyatra, waves out to the people but no one bothers to respond.

He comes out of the Laxmi Chawl, opposite Swan Mill, with some 10-odd people of whom three are his bodyguards. He turns, and goes to the other side of the Laxmi Chawl, making it a point to enter each and every room, saying his namaskar to every voter. The people are clearly not enthused, but Rawle does the right thing by touching the elders' feet whenever he sees them.

Meanwhile, one of his supporters comes out with a mike and hollers: Mohan Rawle ki nishani Dhanashu Baan, Dhanashu Baan.

Says Rawle, "The alliance government has been able to fulfill almost all of its promises. As far as the mills are concerned we have given permission to the owners to sell one-fourth of the land and then with that money modernise the mills and restart it."

Ask him why the people are not enthusiastic about the election and he says, "They are angry with the Congress and therefore they have no enthusiasm for elections as it has become an annual routine. They want to know why Sonia couldn't form the government after our government fell."

But the reality is different, and is evident on the workers' faces.

According to the workers, "There are nearly 30 mills in this constituency out of the 54 in Bombay, and except Khatau no other mill is restarting."

"In fact, in NTC mills we are getting paid without doing any work. And, we don't know how long the government will continue to pay us," says Shyamrao Kamble, an NCP supporter.

After all his exertion since the morning Rawle feels thirsty and asks for a glass of water. His constituent from the chawl, a woman, offers him water, but his cronies ask for mineral water! Finally, convinced there was no way to get it, Rawle settles for the same water as consumed by his voter.

The one remarkable about Rawle is that he still stays in the same, 225 sq ft room in Parel he has always lived in, and has not moved to different quarters in keeping with his new station in life. However, he is unable to take me there as his wife is unwell.

Rawle's rise in politics has been meteoric, the one dark spot being his alleged links with Arun Gawli. But when the latter launched his party, the Akhil Bharatiya Sena, relations soured. In fact, when Gawi was arrested, Rawle went on a hunger strike!

"Gawli was not with us in the last election too, but still I won. The margin was low because the alliance between the Congress-SP and RPI proved fatal for us."

Next we enter a narrow lane where suddenly two women emerge to perform arti. Rawle promptly informs his secretary to call the television crew nearby. The arti is over before the crew can turn up, much to disappointment all around. However, Rawle asks for an encore. "You will get a good image out of it."

"You know, when I first defeated Dr Datta Samant nobody could believe it. Therefore, I feel the love of people will see to my election again."

There are 822,269 voters in his constituency. Out of which 423,000 are Hindus, 125,000 voters are Dalits, 193,266, Muslims and other minorities which includes Christians and Parsis.

In 1991, he won by 4,500 votes. And in 1996, the victory margin was 58,652.

The constituency is divided into six segments: Chinchpokli, Parel, Mazgaon, Nagpada, Sewree and Worli, of which only Chinchpokli is represented by the Janata Dal's Fayaz Ahmed and Nagpada by Suhail Lokhandwala. The rest are with the Sena-BJP.

What holds the key here is the nearly 50,000 mill workers, and their families. Once staunch supporters of Rawle, they have since turned to Sachin Ahir, Arun Gawli's nephew and the Nationalist Congress Party candidate from the Sewree Vidhan Sabha seat.

Says Ahir, who is also general secretary of the Rashtriya Mill Mazdoor Sangh, the textile workers union, "All the mill workers are supporting Sharad Pawar or NCP allies. So the Sena has little chance in South Central."

However, one factor which will work in Rawle's favour is that unlike the last time, this time the Opposition votes will be divided. Advocate Majeed Memon, who is defending the 1993 bomb blasts accused, is the Samajwadi Party candidate, and the Republican Party of India has nominated Dada Samant, Datta Samant's brother.


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