Medha Patkar’s candidature from Mumbai Northeast has surprised even her colleagues in the National Alliance of People’s Movements. She hasn’t joined the Aam Aadmi Party and NAPM had decided she would contest as an independent rather than on a party ticket; her close aide Anna Hazare too would have preferred it that way, sources close to him say.
Patkar herself is known to have been reluctant about entering politics on a party platform, having stayed out of the contest in 2004 when NAPM sought to take on the BJP with its People’s Political Front.
What swung the decision this time, despite the “feelings of a lot of colleagues that I should fight as an independent”, she tells The Indian Express, is the need to come out openly in support of a “besieged”AAP. “Initially the idea was to have an electoral understanding with the AAP and support each other but then I felt the time has come to come out openly in favour of a party that represents an alternative system and values. I am yet to formally join the party.”
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AAP sources say it was her equations with Prasant Bhushan, Ajit Jha and Yogendra Yadav that got her to agree.
Patkar, once a faculty member in Mumbai’s Tata Institute of Social Sciences and who later opposed the Tatas in Singur, has been involved with grassroots movements for 30 years. She shot to prominence in the mid-1980s with the Narmada Bachao Andolan that involved peasant and tribal communities. From her many fasts on land acquisition issues, an enduring image is that of Delhi police personnel dragging her away from Jantar Mantar. Yet she has also been criticised for her movement against the Tatas in Singur, where villagers reportedly threw tomatoes at her, and for her apparent indifference when people in Maharashtra, her state, were agitating against the Jaitapur nuclear project.
Daughter of trade union leader Vasant Khanolkar and women’s activist Indu, she grew up in Mumbai. Longtime associate Dr Sunilam credits her with an ability to connect with all kinds of people, easily drinking from a roadside tap or sharing food from a volunteer’s plate. “She has adjusted her lifestyle to that of the people she fights for,” Sunilam says. “It is true all of us in NAPM and Annaji were in favour of her fighting as an independent, but now that she has taken a call we will all support her.”
The seat she is contesting is held by the NCP’s Sanjay Dina Patil, and includes the predominantly slum belt of Mankhurd where Patkar has been working for several years. Of the Lok Sabha seat’s six assembly segments, the BJP and the MNS led in five in 2009. The sixth segment, which swung the result, was Mankhurd with its slum votes.
Inputs by Shalini Nair in Mumbai
Reliance under her fire
Medha Patkar has picked up her soon-to-be-party’s combative line against Reliance Industries.
“The government is out to ensure by hook or by crook that Reliance should make humongous profits. Reliance is the reason why an honest man like Manishankar Aiyar had to depart from the petroleum ministry; Jaipal Reddy too had to go… it is not just Congress that is a Reliance shop, the company has close links cutting across party lines, from Congress to BJP to NCP. There are close links of both Ambanis and Adanis with Narendra Modi,” Patkar told The Indian Express.
She stressed her stand is not against industrialisation but against jobless corporatisation. “There is mindless inequality. Look at the kind of assets they have made,” she said. “There is this 27-floor personal residence in Mumbai which consumes electricity worth several lakhs every month where not even 27 people live —yes, I am talking about Antilla” (the Ambani residence).
Reliance is among the corporates taken to court by Patkar’s forum NAPM, which opposed the allotment of gas wells in Maharashtra to Reliance and Enron.