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Will Shiv Sena be able to pull off Mumbai bandh?

Last updated on: July 29, 2011 19:10 IST

Shiv Sena, Left union demand free houses for mill workers

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N Ganesh in Mumbai

It has been little over three decades since the iconic mills of Mumbai, then a significant cog in the nation's commercial capital have closed down and gone silent. Many have been razed and replaced by malls, commercial and residential complexes.

Now all that remains of the Mumbai's mill era are the thousands of faceless mill workers who confronted the worst times of their lives when the mills closed down one by one.

Espousing the cause of mill workers or what remains of them, the Shiv Sena and Left Union have called a bandh on August 1 demanding free houses for mill workers.

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Image: Thousands of textile mill workers poured onto the JJ Flyover in Mumbai
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
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'Calling for a bandh a political gamble for Shiv Sena'

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The bandh according to senior journalist Vaibhav Purandare, who authored a book on the Shiv Sena, 'The Sena Story', is a political gamble for the Sena. He says there are chances that it may boomerang. "Given to understand the Sena's tactics of enforcing a bandh through violence, it may be successful.

However, considering the fact that the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena is not participating and vocally opposed such an agitation and few other leftist unions have also expressed similar views, it will not be very easy to bring about a total bandh," said Purandare.

During the rally to Azad Maidan on Thursday, even actor Nana Patekar denounced the call for a bandh. He added that the Sena has a history of enforcing a Mumbai bandh on the assumption that it would provide a solution to all problems.

Political observers and analysts are of the opinion that the call for a bandh on Monday by the Sena is an attempt to lay the foundation for the Mumbai civic poll campaign. "Maybe the Sena leadership thinks that a successful bandh may help the party to shed its image as a spent force," said Purandare.

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Image: Actor Nana Patekar with Republic Party of India Ramdas Athavale at Azad Maidan
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
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'It was Shiv Sena that brought about mill workers' downfall'

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It will definitely not be easy for the Sena to enforce a total bandh considering that the state assembly is in session and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan in a bid to portray a good image in the eyes of Sonia Gandhi will make the task difficult.

Moreover, Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar has never lost an opportunity to cut the Senas led by warring cousins Uddhav and Raj to size.

"It is ironic that the Shiv Sena is today championing the cause of the mill workers as they were the same party that brought about their downfall after conniving with the mill management and the state," said Rajan Raje, trade union leader who was part of the Datta Samant's Kamgar Ekta for a long time.

Raje questioned the Sena's lack of interest shown to the welfare of the mill workers when the party along with its ally Bharatiya Janata Party was in power in the state from 1995 to 2000.

"The Sena did play its role in bringing about the downfall of the mills and the mill workers in Mumbai. Datta Samant was also equally responsible for making unreasonable demands," said Purandare.

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Image: Shiv Sena Executive President Uddhav Thackeray participates in a morcha for the cause of textile mill workers
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
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'Mill workers shouldn't allow political parties to use them'

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The demand for free houses for mills workers has its origin in tweaking the development control rules in 2001, as per which one third of the land of mill that was being sold for development was to be returned to the state.

The demand for free housing gained momentum in 2007 when the state announced housing schemes for the mill workers on the one-third land returned by the mills to the state. In response to the demand for free housing the state government announced a subsidy of Rs 1 lakh under the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.

Even if the government decides to give free houses, only 28,000 will be benefited against the 1.20 lakh application, of which 10,000 are from the heirs of the deceased mill worker.

"Though the Sena acted against the interest of the mill workers, I would request the mill workers to not get used by the political parties and instead make full use of the political parties for their advantage. As far as free housing is concerned, when those in possession of illegal slums can get free house, why shouldn't mill workers, who have contributed significantly for the city's growth?" questioned Raje.


Image: Mill workers at Azad Maidan in South Mumbai
Photographs: Sahil Salvi
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