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Meera vs Milind: A tale of two rallies

April 14, 2014 16:41 IST

Meera vs Milind: A tale of two rallies

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

As a young Congress MP hopes to score a rare hat-trick, he confronts the hope held out by a new party and its earnest candidate. Rediff.com's Swarupa Dutt reports from one of the nation's most high profile constituencies. Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com.

"If that's a condition for volunteering with us," says Meera Sanyal, the banker-turned-candidate, "please tell them, we aren't interested."

Sanyal, the Aam Aadmi Party's candidate for the Mumbai South Lok Sabha constituency, needs more hands at the polling booths on April 24, when Mumbai votes.

Her volunteers -- aged 18 to 60 plus -- tell her there are people willing to join, provided AAP chief Arvind Kejriwal is in Mumbai on Election Day.

Sanyal is running late for her padyatra (walkabout) in Mohammad Ali Road, the Muslim quarter in Mumbai South.

Sanyal, the daughter of a former admiral, goes on ahead with her husband Ashish, who is also her campaign director, while her volunteers gather brooms (the AAP's election symbol), posters, pamphlets and caps written in Hindi and Urdu.

"I sing and raise slogans at AAP rallies," says Rahul Yadav, a 20-year-old student from Mumbai's Siddharth College. "It's tiring; it's so hot now, but every day when I go home I feel fulfilled. I feel proud to be a part of AAP, the other parties are all thieves," he says from his perch atop a van.

Ajay Kamal, 28, is responsible for recruiting volunteers for AAP. He makes photo frames for a living and has taken a three-month break from work to volunteer with AAP.

"My wife told me to go ahead," Kamal says, handing out AAP caps to passersby as the van heads to the rally, "she says she's never been as proud of me."

Anna Hazare's movement -- India Against Corruption -- affected him deeply, he says. "I was a volunteer with IAC and I realised these are good people and I wanted to be part of them. I want some of that goodness to rub off on to me."

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Image: AAP candidate Meera Sanyal speaks to voters at Chhas Galli in the Muslim quarter of the Mumbai South constituency. The former banker asks them to give her and the party a chance, but makes no electoral promises.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com

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Meera vs Milind: A tale of two rallies

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

Less than 8 km away, at the Macchimaar (Fishermen) Market in Colaba, Dikshita, still too young to vote at 16, waits for Milind Deora's cavalcade to appear.

She and the women with her say they are Congress volunteers and it is their second rally of the day.

Dikshita raises slogans, "Milind Deora aage badho, hum tumhare saath hai (Keep moving forward Milind Deora, we are with you)" or "Aage aao bhai aage aao, Milind Deora aage aao (come forward Milind Deora).

The rally will end at 9 pm, but the women say the party has not promised them a meal.

"We had lunch at home and then joined this rally at 4 pm," says Manisha, a homemaker.

The women look bored and tired. One woman says people are lucky to live so close to the sea, but the stench of the fish is getting to her.

The garbage dump a few metres away doesn't help. Her friend asks why she hasn't watched the Kangana Ranaut-starrer Queen.

The men are dressed in white with the party colours draped around their shoulders; they say they are Congress party members, not just volunteers. They would be a casting coup in a Hindi film as a politician's henchmen.

Deora appears, forehead smeared with vermillion. He is surrounded by over a hundred men in white carrying Congress flags.

The women get up in unison and join the group raising slogans. A few desultory waves, a wan smile and a brief stop to speak to a fisherwoman and Deora stops at a quadrangle.

There in the middle of a crowd that has now swelled to at least 500, he stands on a plastic chair and in Marathi (his mother Hema Deora is a Maharashtrian; his father Murli Deora, a former MP from Mumbai South, is now a member of the Rajya Sabha) speaks into two mikes.

"No elected representative can say they have done everything, kept every promise, but if an effort has been made in that direction, it's worth your vote," says Deora, earnestly.

If Milind Deora wins this election, it will be his third consecutive term as the MP from the Mumbai South constituency. He won his first election ten years ago when he was just 27.

People peer down at Deora from buildings, clap, cheer and whistle.

The board at the entrance of the buildings says it was inaugurated by Milind Deora.

As Deora pauses, Jaywanti Koli shouts, "Sahib karun dya na, paintees varsha jhala! (Please build it, sir, it has been 35 years)."

The men in Deora's entourage shush her. "You can meet sahib later, come to the office."

Deora looks at Koli and then looks away.

Koli lives in the Colaba transit camp nearby. Her dilapidated building shows no signs of redevelopment. "These people won't do anything," she says. "They say, 'Come to the office'. At the office, they say, 'Sahib is not there, come later'."

She looks sheepish when we point to the Congress placard she is carrying. "Nothing will happen, I know, but at least sahib is a known face and we have always been Congress voters." she says.

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Image: South Mumbai Congress MP Milind Deora in Colaba.
Photographs: Reuben N V/Rediff.com

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Meera vs Milind: A tale of two rallies

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

The innards of Mohammad Ali Road have both residential buildings as well as small restaurants, hardware shops, grocery shops and madrassas. The maze of lanes are sometimes barely four feet wide.

The AAP topi with Arvind Kejriwal's face and Main hoon aam admi (written in Urdu and Hindi) perched on her head, Sanyal makes her way through the warren of streets with AAP volunteers, party members and supporters -- less than a hundred in strength.

Stopping at every quadrangle the warren of lanes open up into, she does what few politicians would dare -- makes no promises.

Introducing herself and her party, Sanyal says in Hindi, "You know what the parties you have voted for have done for you. You know what promises they have made. You know what they have not done for you. Give us a chance."

A teenager walks by. Does he know who she is? Which party? He shakes his head.

A volunteer gives him a pamphlet in Urdu for his father.

"What does it say?" the boy asks.

"Read it," the volunteer smiles.

"I can't read Urdu," says the boy and drops the pamphlet on the street.

At the Kohinoor Hotel at Mohammad Ali Road, Qasim, Abu Bakr and Yousuf say they have never heard of the Aam Admi Party.

"We don't read newspapers that much or watch TV, there's nothing, but crime," they explain.

At Memom Wada, Iqbal says he has heard of the party, but won't vote for AAP.

"Dilli mein dekha hai kya hua (I have seen what happened in Delhi)," he explains, alluding to Arvind Kejriwal resigning as chief minister in 49 days.

At Deora's rally, Congress party members insist it is a certain hat-trick for Deora.

"He has done a lot of work, of course, he will get elected again." And AAP? "Log theek hain (The people are good)," the Congressmen concede, but add, "kuch bharosa nahin hai. Aaj hain, to kal nahin (They are here today, gone tomorrow, they can't be depended upon). Why should anyone waste their vote on them?"

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Image: Meera Sanyal with voters at Attar Galli , off Mohammad Ali Road, the Muslim quarter in Mumbai South. Some voters said they had given the Congress a chance, it was now time for change.
Photographs: Reuben N V/Rediff.com

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Meera vs Milind: A tale of two rallies

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

But there is the X factor.

Outside the Colaba fish market building, Jamir Sheikh sells skinned chickens. He has never heard of Milind Deora. "What difference does it make? I'm not a registered voter in Mumbai," he shrugs.

A few feet away, Kishorilal sells vegetables. He has been living in Mumbai since 1964 and says that Deora has worked for the people, but not for vegetable vendors, who want a permanent structure, like the fish market behind them.

"Our voices are never heard. Did you see him? He waved, got on that chair and went away. Did he bother to speak to us? He has worked, but only for the Kolis (the fishing community). We are tired of running away with our vegetables whenever there's a municipal raid. We live like thieves, what about our rights?"

Dinesh Kesarwani, also a vegetable vendor, wishes there was an alternative to the Congress.

"Maybe it's the BJP, but not AAP. It was a bad idea to quit as CM," he says of Kejriwal.

But there are disgruntled murmurs among the fishermen too. Ramesh Pardeshi, a fisherman at the Sasoon Docks, believes the BJP will come to power. "If one doctor can't help you, you will go to another doctor. A change is natural," he says..

Pardeshi says his father voted for Rajiv Gandhi. "He was different. I was in college, he came here and addressed a rally. But now, the party is a mess. My vote will go to the BJP."

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Image: 'Did you see him? He waved, got on that chair and went away. Did he bother to speak to us?' one voter complained about Milind Deora.
Photographs: Reuben N V/Rediff.com

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Swarupa Dutt/Rediff.com

At Attar gulli, Meera Sanyal walks by smiling beatifically at the shopkeepers to cries of, "Meera Sanyal aayi hain, nayi roshni laayi hain (Meera Sanyal has come with a new ray of hope)."

Abdul Nagani, whose family owns Milano footwear, pops out of his shop to see her. "We have tried the Congress, now we want to try the AAP. Their candidates are honest and educated; we should give them a chance," he says.

At Chhaas Mohalla, Sanyal stops, and says, "Don't get taken in by money politics. The time has come for change. If you give your vote for money, when the time comes for them to do work, they will ask you for money. Vote for empowerment. There was only a B team and a C team, now there's an A team, vote for AAP."

James D'Costa has volunteered with Sanyal for two months. "This is the only party that can change this country," he says.

Abdul Wahid, who runs a madrassa and an orphanage, agrees. "This is a time for change. And this is the best party we have."

Some AAP members grudgingly agree that the Delhi fiasco has harmed AAP's chances in Mumbai.

"We were disappointed," says Mohammad Quaraishi, a resident of the city for 65 years. "But unki neeyat achchi hai (they have the right intentions). And don't forget, it isn't easy giving up a CM's chair. Milind Deora has never come here in the last 10 years. We have only seen his pictures in newspapers."

Traditionally, this Muslim area has voted Congress. "But that will change!" bellows Mohammad Qasim. "Who is Imam Bukhari to tell us to vote Congress? We challenge him to come down to the streets and talk to us. Nobody cares about what he says and that' the truth. Hum toh bus dil o jaan se chahte hain ke AAP jeet jaaye (We hope with our heart and soul that AAP wins)," he says, placing his hand on his chest.

Meera Sanyal is already out of sight as she walks to the next mohalla, but the faint strains of "Na paise ka na daru ka, zor chalegi jhaadu ka (Neither money not alcohol, on the broom's force will work)" can still be heard.

Meanwhile, the battalion of women at Deora's rally at the Macchimaar colony quicken their steps to match his. Suddenly, they stop short at the sight ahead -- fresh Bombay Duck -- at just Rs 15 a piece.

The rally may have just been worth their while.


Image: AAP candidate Meera Sanyal on the move in the Muslim quarter of the Mumbai South constituency.
Photographs: Reuben N V/Rediff.com

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