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I'm in politics for the long run: Urmila

By Swarupa Dutt
April 22, 2019 09:44 IST
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'I never do anything half-hearted.'
'So, if I've taken the plunge in politics I'm in it for good, for the long run and I will definitely do a world of good.'

IMAGE: Urmila Matondkar campaigns in Magathane shortly after the Congress announced her as the candidate for the Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency. Photograph: Kind courtesy Urmila Matondkar

Three weeks after she joined the Congress in the presence of party President Rahul Gandhi, Urmila Matondkar had a taste of the rough and tumble of politics when alleged Bharatiya Janata Party workers heckled her at a rally in Borivali, north Mumbai, chanting 'Modi Modi'.

Provided police protection, the movie star , says the incident has only bolstered her will to work for the people.

Pitted against incumbent BJP MP Ganesh Shetty from the Mumbai North constituency, Matondkar, who is debuting in politics, bristles at being asked if she is up to being a giant-killer.

"I may be a novice, but give me a chance to prove myself and then judge me. No work has been done in my constituency, so I don't understand these claims of (Shetty) being a formidable opponent or a giant in politics," she says over the phone to Swarupa Dutt/, during a lunch break on the campaign trail.

Mumbai goes to the polls on April 29 in the fourth phase of the general election.

Did you sleep well after the run-in with BJP supporters?

You are asking this question because you are a woman. I didn't sleep well at all.

As a matter of fact, my hands were shivering for a very long time after the incident. I was shaken, not so much because I am a woman, but because I am a human being.

I am a Mumbaikar, and this is a side of the city I have never seen during elections.

When did violence become a part of politics or elections in Mumbai?

In the two weeks since I joined the party the extent of trolling that has happened is at another level altogether.

I have been trolled for my name, my marriage, my religion, even for my mother... I posted a picture on my mother's birthday and there too... (she was trolled saying birthday parties are not allowed in the Koran, alluding to her husband's religion).

This is verbal violence, but it's violence nevertheless.

The source of this violence is not the general public, it's coming from somewhere specific, targeting specific people. This is what has been happening for the last 5 years.


You have police protection now, do you feel your life is under threat?

I do feel threatened. But let me tell you that it's not just me, a lot of people feel so too.

People from different parties are too scared to speak up to the extent that they should, because they are scared.

Scared of what?

Of threats and violence.

IMAGE: The star-turned-politician interacts with children at Mumbai's Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali. Photograph: Kind courtesy Urmila Matondkar

Politics is often the choice of people whose careers are flagging. Do you really want to be a politician or is it a lack of choices?

I never considered politics as an option, not ever.

Several parties had approached me earlier to join politics, but I didn't because politics was never on my mind.

I haven't necessarily joined politics to become a leader, but because it was the need of the time.

It was either now or never.

You want a certain kind of society, city, country, a future that I think is not there anymore. So you need to step up and do whatever you can.

And that is what I was aiming at doing by joining the Congress party and voicing what I think is going wrong.

Did you get in touch with the Congress?

No, the party contacted me. They had contacted me earlier as well.

It was the party's decision to ask me to contest the election. I have essentially taken up politics as a platform to bring about social changes.

So, why now? What was the catalyst?

In 2014, we were all told that achche din were going to arrive. It was never practical, but the optimist in us believed in these shenanigans, fell for the promise and gave the party the kind of mandate that is unheard of.

None of the promises were fulfilled.

Instead, we have been gifted GST, unemployment, farmers' issues, women's security and intolerance towards different faiths and points of view.

When people talk about intolerance in society they are asked to leave the country.

Aren't you going to worry? Aren't you going to ask, 'Mmy God! what kind of an India am I living in!'

WATCH: Urmila plays cricket


To bring about change, you need to win. Why would voters vote for you?

They will vote for me because they see some promise in me. My opponent has been a corporator and an MP, but you should see the condition of the constituency.

There is not even a public toilet at Dahisar station. There is no healthcare facility for low-income women. And these are just basics.

Let's not even go to the bigger issues like slum redevelopment or tribal welfare. It's a far cry from the developed Mumbai that you see.

Is Ganesh Shetty, the incumbent MP from your constituency, a formidable opponent?

Why do you think he's formidable? I don't think a person can be called formidable etc, or whatever word you want to use, if the person has not done any work!

The first lesson of politics or at least democracy is that it is a government by the people and for the people, isn't it? What makes the person a big leader or a big name is only what the person has done for the people.

I may be a novice, but give me a chance to prove myself and then judge me.

Nothing has been done in this constituency. So I don't understand where these claims come from.

I'm trying to inspire confidence and trust from the people. I'm not approaching politics as a star, but as a citizen who wants to serve the people.

IMAGE: Urmila says while on the trail she has been feeling the warmth from people and wants to serve them. Photograph: Kind courtesy Urmila Matondkar

You have been on the campaign trail for two weeks now. Tell us your experience. What have people been telling you?

The heat! It's very exhausting (laughs), but I expected it. From what people have been telling me, I have realised the area has been completely neglected and nothing has been done.

I can tell you that the warmth I have received from the people is incredible, it's a life-changing experience.

So, people are reaching out to you?

Yes, yes! Trust me, earlier only a handful of people had my phone number, but now it has become a public number.

People are messaging me, sending me pictures and writing about problems in the constituency.

It's endless. I'm overwhelmed by the faith people have reposed in me.

There is a girls' school and fees have been hiked four times... and I'm like I'm not in a position to do anything about it right now.

But I want to tell you, I never do anything half-hearted. So, if I've taken the plunge in politics I'm in it for good, for the long run and I will definitely do a world of good.

What are the top three issues in your constituency?

I would say lack of housing, water shortage and poor healthcare for women.

How familiar are you with this constituency? How many times before this have you been to Dahisar or Magathane?

I haven't been many times, but I'm not unaware of the places. My brother's wife and my sister's husband were from this area and then they eventually moved out, but I've gone to their homes often.

I've gone to Gorai and Madh Island for film shootings.

So I don't understand why people make it sound like I've come from Mars.

I've been a Mumbaikar all my life. I have travelled in trains and rickshaws and eaten vada pavs because I come from a very middle-class background.

All the stardom that you associate with me is the fruit of extreme hard work and struggle.

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Swarupa Dutt