…And vice-versa is our campaign, says MEDHA PATKAR, AAP candidate of Mumbai North-East, to JYOTI PUNWANI

Mar 26, 2014 No Comments by

Well-known activist Medha Patkar is fighting her first electoral battle on behalf of AAP after having been part of people’s movements all her life. Her voters know her as the only one who resisted the tsunami of slum demolitions unleashed by former Chief Minister late Vilasrao Deshmukh in 2004-05, organising slum-dwellers and being dragged by her hair by the police. But she also must contend with the “anti-development” image she has been cast in, specially by the people of Gujarat. Her opponents are the BJP’s Kirit Somaiya and the NCP’s sitting MP Dina Bama Patil.


Here she talks to JYOTI PUNWANI about this new experience.
 
Q.
After having been an activist all your life, how do you feel asking for votes?
A.
Awkward. We’ve always felt our work was not for votes. But people now are more inclined towards electoral battles. They feel it’s a challenge they want to take on. And slum dwellers have always known politics better than middle class people.

Q.
In Mumbai, workers would support Datta Samant but vote for the Shiv Sena. Do you think this pattern will be repeated?
 
A.
One has to wait and see whether all the work we’ve done for 40 years translates into votes.  But the atmosphere now is different. People know the strength of movements, and  they know mere electoral politics won’t bring in magical change. Yet, workers in the movement feel enthusiastic about the Delhi achievement.  Some of them may be very naive, but they do feel emotionally charged up.

Q.
You are up against a Gujarati BJP candidate. The rumour is that all Gujaratis want to defeat you because of your movement against the Narmada Dam.
 
A.
They will use the Narmada card. I’ve heard that even Prakash Javadekar  (BJP spokesperson) is going around saying I’m anti-Gujarat and anti-development.
People are saying all this because they’ve not studied the issue. They’ve neither visited the Narmada Valley nor Kutch. It was farmers in Kutch who took Arvind Kejriwal to show him there was no canal and no water flowing as claimed by the Gujarat government.  The water is getting diverted to corporates. The command area of the Narmada has been changed. The government has not even built canals. The dam work is stopped because there’s been no rehabilitation. So it’s their own deeds that are responsible for water not reaching.  In fact, because Kejriwal was the first to say there’s no water for Kutch, many Kutchis are now with AAP. Many of them in Mulund and Ghatkopar have given financial commitments for the party.

I need to make a statement on this. But the door-to-door campaigning that I’m doing gives no chance to speak in depth on anything. Our movement used to rely on direct confrontations with candidates who would be called on a common platform to answer questions. But so far, there have been no such programmes, even on TV. I’ve been ready, the others haven’t agreed.  I have the facts and figures to answer their allegations.

Our opponents want to use this Narmada plank to challenge AAP in Gujarat. But people in Gujarat
know that the present development paradigm is questionable, whether it’s on environment or pollution.

Q.
You also have the image of fighting only for slum-dwellers. How will others relate to you?

A.
That’s not correct. All those fighting big builders approach us. Whether it’s redevelopment by MHADA (Maharashtra Housing & Area Development Authority)  by which many middle class people are affected, or redevelopment projects of other builders, or the threat to old Catholic properties.. We have been holding meetings in many societies where middle class people have told us “we need your kind of fighting spirit.” Even the Campa Cola people came to us. (An upper middle class society where the Supreme Court has upheld the demolition order of the BMC.)

We’ve given a plan for affordable housing in Mumbai  to the Maharashtra government. Land is blocked with a handful of people- six companies and some 50 families and individuals.

We will also be talking about environment, pollution. These are relevant for everyone. The state of transport in this city, the traffic jams, the number of cars being allowed… No consultation with the local people is ever done while planning, whether it’s for road widening, erecting a sky walk, the metro… Non-participation of the people in planning, corruption, these are issues that everyone can identify with. We have always said planning must be bottom up.  The ward must decide how to use its resources. Art  243 of the Constitution guarantees that.

Q.
Do you foresee the builders lobby working against you?

A.
It’s possible they’ll dig out stories against me. But people know ours is an open battle. Aap ke baare mein humey sab kuch malum hai, is what people tell me.
 
 
 
Q.

 

Your constituency has a large number of Muslims, who’ve always supported Congress, and this time, may do so even more, given the fear of Modi. Can you attract them?

A.
Muslims were always with the Congress, but we know they are today frustrated with that relationship. Even the Sachar Commission Report has not been implemented. The minorities, specially Muslims, don’t get due recognition of their sources of livelihood, because these are normally in the small scale sector. They are in fact facing hell because of globalisation and FDI.

So they see me personally and the party as countering  that trend.  Muslims from UP also know me because of our yatra to Ayodhya.  At any rate, in Mumbai more than the fear of of Modi, what  dominates is the fraud of Modi. This ‘wave’ everyone talks about… it’s not from large gatherings that one can gauge support, but from the undercurrents which may be more powerful.
 
 Q.
What will voters get by voting for you? That’s a question you will have to answer.

A
I’ve coined the slogan— “Mat do, hakk milega.” Vote for me and get your rights as a citizen. People know us, they’re not going to ask us for a bottle of liquor or a washing machine or other freebies.

Q.

 

Some of your comrades in the movement are not happy with your decision to fight elections.

A.
Even when we were fighting through our movement, it became necessary to recognize that party politics matter. Our state units were encouraged to analyse political developments. And we were always intervening during and between elections, those five years which are dominated by corrupt politics.

But now, people expect direct intervention from us, to concretise whatever’s gained from struggle. Who questioned Ambani first? Or pointed out the link between Modi and Adani? All these questions came from people’s struggles. As did the Right to information, the Rajiv Awaas Yojna… As movements we have influenced so many laws: the Unorganized Workers Social Security Sector Act, the Street Vendors Act.

It has often happened that the Parliamentary Standing Committee wouldn’t even read the drafts of acts we took so much trouble to make. So you have to think beyond movements. In spite of the many achievements of our struggles, we are often left with nothing.
 
All the units of NAPM were asked to give their decision about whether we should participate in elections. Assam, Karnataka and half of West Bengal wanted no electoral politics. The rest wanted it, but in different degrees – some wanted to support AAP, some wanted to support only some select candidates. Thinking about the future and Modi’s challenge, I felt there has to be a group in Parliament to practise the alternate politics which symbolize “Galli se Dilli Tak’’ – and vice versa too.  Even in the Narmada struggle, we went from the micro to macro. Without the micro struggle, you get rootless. Our kind of activists can take a position and make an impact in national and international fora.

Actually this used to happen earlier, soon after Independence. I didn’t think people were ready for electoral politics but now with social networking and the media’s role, the time seems to have come.

Q.
Talking about the media, what’s your relationship with it? Kejriwal attacks it all the time.

A.
My personal view is that media is media, it can be critical and supportive at different times. One has to analyse media as the fourth estate. We  have to talk about corporatization of the media of course, but if that issue is raised only when it criticizes us, I don’t agree.  AAP got enough media support, so did our Narmada movement. But we know that the media doesn’t cover the struggle of the urban poor.

Talking in the context of elections, we take due cognisanze of the media’s criticism, but we don’t take it lying down. When there’s a courageous move to challenge Ambani and Adani, it’s also necessary that we are cautious about the sources  that run the media. We can’t blame the reporters.

Q.
Are you using social media?

A.
I’m not as strong in social media. Social networking is going to be a big barrier in communication with people and campaigning. The whole procedure of electoral campaigning must be face to face. If we say that development has to be based on face to f ace interaction, how can election campaigns not be so? As  it is, the rules of electioneering are against us. They allow hoardings, which are purchased space for which you have to pay lakhs. But banners are not allowed!  I agree that there should be rules for banners. But the current rule is that even if you put up a banner outside your shop, it must not face municipal property. Now all shops face municipal roads. Municipal grounds can’t be used to hold rallies but in poor areas, all grounds are municipal grounds.
Stickers are not allowed to be put outside auto-rickshaws, only inside. The police were even stopping our volunteers from wearing caps, when anything worth Rs 10 or less is allowed to be displayed.  
Raj Thackeray has put up huge hoardings. Narendra Modi has brought out full page ads in newspapers.  All this huge expenditure is allowed. But if on one’s own property people put up a banner, the EC objects.  These rules go against independent candidates and small parties.
The EC has raised the expenditure per candidate to Rs 70 lakh. Where do we get so much? We may not even reach Rs 10 lakh! Our strength is door to door campaigning, but how much can you walk? Mine is the city’s biggest constituency.
 Our campaign strategy has to be to reach out to people with least or no money.

(The writer is a Mumbai-based journalist)

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