As the sun sets on the horizon of the slum settlements of Dharavi, 39-year-old Varsha Gaikwad, the Congress candidate here — dressed in a white salwaar kameez embroidered with pink flowers — steps out of her white air-conditioned car and walked with her supporters into the shanties of Kala Killa.
Kala Killa, incidentally, falls in Dharavi’s Sector 5, which the state housing authority has first taken up for redevelopment under the state’s ambitious Dharavi redevelopment plan, the long delays in which have made some voters lose confidence in the Congress.
The spring in her step belied the fact that not five months ago, the Congress bastion of Dharavi had for the first in over a decade forcefully quivered with her father Eknath Gaikwad, an MP for two terms, losing to Shiv Sena’s Rahul Shewale.
Varsha Gaikwad shrugged off the defeat saying, “We lost by a very small margin. They (BJP) sold dreams to people.
Those dreams are not coming true. The only thing I would say we did wrong was that we were not loud enough in talking about the development we have brought about in Dharavi,” said Varsha Gaikwad, the sitting MLA, while shuffling between one slum settlement to another.
While Shewale had won 44 per cent of the total votes polled in Dharavi, Gaikwad was close on his heels with 42 per cent of the votes.
However, as ‘Varsha tai’, as she is popularly known in Dharavi, went from one door to another, even knocking on closed doors to ensure she meets all voters, she did not speak any of this. She did not even tell them that the state housing authority has already completed one building in Sector 5 and is now getting approvals to start work on the second building, which will house the residents from the Kala Killa shanties.
She would simply smile, shake hands, tell families to vote for the Congress, and hand over a pamphlet of everything she wants to say.
“They all know it. They have all been seeing the first building coming up. They can see the international-level sports complex that we have created in Dharavi. We are setting up an Industrial Training Institute here. I am confident that voters will see all this development and make me victorious,” Gaikwad said.
The Kala Killa area in Dharavi is just off the main road with a large hoarding of Gaikwad and her father at the curb, saying — ‘Badal Rahi hain zindagi, badal rahi hain Dharavi’ (Life is changing, Dharavi is changing).
Some garlanded her and gave her sweets, while many stepped out of their stuffy houses into the dimly-lit narrow alleyways complaining about garbage, bad drainage, and lack of clean toilets.
Vanita Jadhav, a 35-year-old housewife, said, “None of you come when we need our public representatives here. There are big rats, sewage that is not cleaned for days. No one will do anything.”
While Gaikwad’s supporters tried hushing critics of the party’s work, she herself would halt and turn around to listen to complaints. Politely, she said, “Don’t worry, we will come and get your work done.”