AIMING to counter the prominent role of political parties in day-to-day functioning of the country’s richest civic body, citizen activists from various parts of Mumbai have started gauging their options and are planning their strategies of entering the political arena to put up a better show than last time in the upcoming civic polls. Apart from some of the known faces who contested the civic elections last year, a few residential associations are also planning to put up new contenders and their preparations are slowly gathering momentum.
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The delimitation and reservation process of the 227 electoral wards, which were announced by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) last month, has led to a fresh round of planning for the political parties as well as the ‘citizen candidates’. Even with the intention to contest as independent candidates, several citizen activists are still unsure about the wards they will be contesting from.
During the last civic polls, these candidates failed to attract a large number of votes and only one out of the 79 candidates fielded by different citizen groups managed to win. Makarand Narwekar, an advocate and currently the corporator from Colaba, won with a margin of around 1,400 votes. He is planning to contest again. “While the ALMs (advanced locality managements) in Colaba will definitely field a candidate, they are yet to take a final decision. But if given the choice, I would definitely like to contest again,” said Narwekar.
After working on issues like implementation of a parking policy and widening arterial roads, Narwekar said he planned to take up the macro issues in future. “Colaba has multiple planning authorities including the MMRDA, the civic body, the defence forces and the Mumbai Port Trust. In order to streamline development of the area, I want to work on bringing out a consolidated plan,” he said.
Another experienced candidate Hina Shroff, who had contested from Vile Parle as part of Mumbai Nagrik Manch in the 2012 civic polls, is also planning to try her luck again. She, however, said the delimitation process had included very congested areas like the Vile Parle railway station and parts of Juhu Koliwada. “These areas are very crowded and it makes campaigning extremely difficult.
We have written to the Election Commission (EC) with our suggestions of the ward boundaries. I am planning to contest but we have to weigh in our options depending on the EC’s response,” she said.
In the last five years, Shroff said, she had been regularly involved in taking up locality-specific issues, including cleaning of drains, removal of illegal banners and illegal Ganapati mandals in the neighbourhood, by working with the authorities. “Currently, we are working on making all the roads in the area to have a footpath only on one side to improve traffic movement. There is a lot more to be done,” she said.
RTI activist Bhaskar Prabhu, who also intends to contest, is looking for the appropriate ward since his ward has been reserved for women. “Though I plan to contest, after delimitation, the area that I have worked in now includes people from a different locality where no one knows me. We are surveying F North and F South wards to examine our chances in those areas,” he said.
Resident associations from Chembur and Govandi are also joining the fray and are planning to put up three candidates. Rajkumar Sharma, president of ALMANAC, the federation of ALMs in Chembur, said delimitation of the wards had spelt good news for the people. “As citizen groups, we have certain limitations like financial constraints that the political parties would not be inhibited by. We are planning to field candidates from three wards including Cheda Nagar. While we have finalised one of the candidates, we are still considering the best option for the other two depending on the reservations,” he said.
A few groups, though sure of fielding at least one candidate, are still in the initial stages of their planning. Members of the gaothan community strongly feel a leader from among them would be able to bring about active change and improve their standard of living.
Godfrey Pimenta, an activist and resident of a gaothan in Marol, said the community was planning to field at least one candidate either from Bandra, Marol or Sahar. “The gaothan areas area deprived of civic amenities. We have bad roads, no sewage system and we need representation in the political space to make a difference. Among other issues, our candidate can advocate for extra FSI so that the members can accommodate their growing families,” he said. Pimenta added that the community was planning to have a conclave at the end of this month to find interested candidates.
Citing the performance of citizen candidates last time, some groups, however, said they would prefer to lend their support to political parties. Members of Friends of Dadar said their support would go to the MNS.
Pledging support to the BJP, the Gulmohar Area Societies Welfare Group, a federation of 10-15 ALMs comprising residents from Lokhandwala, is planning to actively participate in the party’s election campaign. Ashoke Pandit, a member of the federation, said, “(MLA) Ameet Satam has welcomed citizen activists to be a part of the election campaign as well as the contest. We, the residents, are planning to put up at least one fresh face from among us.”