Asia’s largest slum, a much-visited destination on the global tourist map and home to multifarious industries such as pottery, tanneries making domestic rip-offs of imported leather goods, tailoring, metal recycling and so on, Dharavi has traditionally been a Congress stronghold.
However, the Congress-NCP government’s ambitious plan to transform Dharavi from the congested, pandemonic and haphazard slum sprawl into a well-planned cluster of high-rises is proving to be a double-edged sword for the party, and could dent its votes.
While some families, who have been voting for the Congress for decades, are disillusioned with the state government dragging its feet on the decade-old Dharavi revamp plan, some others have no faith in the plan itself.
Sixty-five-year-old Bhanubhai Chitroda, standing arms akimbo in his tiny grains shop on 90-feet road in Dharavi, says, “Ninety per cent of the people I know in Dharavi want a change now. I don’t mind redevelopment, but we don’t trust the government with it. They have taken so long to conceptualise it. God knows how many years they will take to complete it, if at all they do.”
Congress’ Eknath Gaikwad has been the MP from the Mumbai South Central constituency, of which Dharavi is a part, for two consecutive terms now, while his daughter Varsha Gaikwad is the local MLA. At the municipal level, there was a time when the Congress controlled all wards in Dharavi in 2002. It retained five in 2007 and as of now holds only one after the civic elections in 2012.
The Dharavi redevelopment plan has been a non-starter since 2004. Of the five sectors in Dharavi, the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) is redeveloping the fifth sector. It had started work on one building last year and has partially completed it. Show flats have also been readied to give people a glimpse of what they can expect. The Dharavi Redevelopment Authority is in charge of the other four sectors and is preparing to bid out the project in phases.
Forty-year-old Kamuben Tat from Kumbharwada, sitting next to three long rows of earthen pots and pans that her family has crafted in the past few days, says, “We as potters need a big space to keep our wares. We need a hole in the ground to create our pots. How is the government going to give us all this? Every time a government-appointed consultant has come to us with the redevelopment plan, he has been stumped with our needs. I have always voted for the Congress, but now I will have to reconsider my options.”
However, Eknath Gaikwad maintains that though there was some confusion in the minds of the people earlier, it is not the case any more.
“The beginning was important. People can see that work is almost complete on the three wings of the MHADA building. They can see what their houses are going to look like and they are happy. The authorities have readied the tender documents and the chief minister will give his approval to the same once the election code of conduct is over.”
Rahul Shewale, Shiv Sena’s candidate from the Mumbai South Central constituency, was addressing a campaign rally in Dharavi’s Shahu Nagar area on Thursday evening. “The major lament of people here is about how the government has dragged its feet on the Dharavi redevelopment project. It will certainly be an important poll issue,” says a person in Shewale’s entourage, requesting anonymity.
Incidentally, Shewale, also the civic body’s standing committee chairman, was born in Dharavi.
Shiv Sena has two corporator wards in Dharavi, while Samajwadi Party, Republican Party of India (RPI) and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have one each. A councillor ward is held by an independent candidate who was a Congress rebel.