An IT engineer, who worked on a Ministry of Human Resource Development project on e-learning at IIT Bombay while he was pursuing his Mtech, Deepak Shinde is now gearing up to fight the likes of BJP’s Kirit Somaiya and AAP’s Medha Patkar from Mumbai’s North-East constituency.
The 37-year-old, who quit his corporate job last year, says his appeal is to the middle-class, which has been ignored by parties for years.
“Politicians feel if they win, the seat becomes their property for five years. Increasing corruption, crimes against women and no development acted as catalysts that triggered in me the need to contest. I have been living in this constituency all my life and have seen little or no improvement in terms of development,” said the IIT Bombay graduate and second-year law student, whose agenda is to improve rail transport, curb crimes against women and ensure safety of senior citizens.
For the debutant contestant, development in suburban Mumbai and in middle-class dominated areas like Ghatkopar, Mulund and Bhandup has only taken place in the last 40 years. “If there is anything done, it is done at the ground level and for those belonging to the lower strata. Why has the middle-class always been ignored?”questioned the Gandhi and Ambedkar follower.
“Only the builder lobby has improved as you will see sky-scrapers coming up in place of defunct mills in the area. There is no improvement for people like us. Even Somaiya has failed to bring about a major change during his tenure. I have lived here for 37 years and I am hopeful that people would vote for me,” said Shinde, even as he criticised NCP’s sitting MP Sanjay Dina Patil for “not doing anything”.
According to Shinde, raising funds from businessmen in the constituency was his biggest challenge. “I was flabbergasted when they (businessmen) asked what they would get in return, otherwise they had shown willingness to vote for me,” said Shinde, who prefers to campaign door-to-door.
Factoid: While the contestants are well qualified, none of them have assets like Sanjay Sawaji Deshpande, who despite being a tailor, has assets worth over a crore.
A secondary school teacher, Rina Zaveri is among the four Independent candidates from the constituency that goes to polls on April 24.
Zaveri, a Dahisar resident, says she decided to contest “all of a sudden” after being encouraged by a close family friend and then by her students.
“When I informed some of my current and former students about my decision, I received a lot of messages on Facebook and WhatsApp. All of them said they would support me completely,” said the 35-year-old.
Zaveri has printed a local manifesto that she has been distributing in the constituency. It raised issues like women’s safety and the pinching price rise. “Those in power have not raised issues important to the public. This is the reason why educated common people should now take an active interest in politics,” she says.
Zaveri began her campaign with a padyatra in Andheri on Sunday. While her colleagues are frantically correcting answer-sheets from the recently concluded school exams, she has managed to get leave. “Teachers help mould the nation’s opinions. It is only when we come forward as leaders that we will be able to develop the society. Traditional ways to bring about a difference have failed. People say politics is dirty, but you have to get your hands dirty if you want to change something,” she says.
Zaveri is financing her own campaign, and is under no illusions of her chances on polling day. “Since I am not an established personality, no one will vote for me looking at my face. The issues I raise will make the difference,” she says.
Factoid: Nitin Khare, a director in a construction consultancy firm and his wife Aradhana Srivastava, also a director in the same firm, have declared assets worth Rs 33.89 lakh. They have declared 36 gram of gold worth Rs 1,13,000 and a house valued at Rs 50 lakh. Their only liability is the housing loan of Rs 24 lakh.
— Srinath Rao
With “slippers” as her poll symbol, Sanju Verma, the former CEO of a financial services company, had a stint with AAP before deciding to contest as an Independent.
“In the past six decades, the two main parties have achieved little. Instead of complaining, I decided to do something about it. I have been visiting people in my constituency only to realise that Priya Dutt has done almost nothing. As for AAP, their anti-corruption agenda is a hoax and BJP was not even an option. I have joined politics not because I need to, but because I want to. I decided to contest as an Independent despite offers from leading parties. If more Independents are elected and committed people like me come in, the dynamics of politics will change,” said the 43-year-old Breach Candy resident.
A majority shareholder in Violet Arch Securities Pvt Ltd and its former CEO, the MBA in finance from Xavier Institute of Management, Bhubaneswar, plans to focus on national issues like police and judicial reforms and implementation of the Sachar committee report, besides local issues like completion of the Kurla underpass and flyover between Santacruz and Chembur, expediting Mithi River development project and coastal security.
In her constituency, Verma mainly goes canvassing for votes in slum pockets and interacts with minority groups. “Voters are no longer blinded by what big parties have to offer. They want someone who is accessible and accountable. I have a lot of support from these areas and stand an excellent chance at winning,” said Verma, who has worked with HDFC Securities Ltd and JP Morgan previously.
“The current electoral system does not encourage Independents. If we get party symbols 15-20 days before elections, how can we inform enough people what button to press? Burning our hard-earned money does pinch, but I see it as an investment,” said Verma, who self-finances her campaign with some help from family, friends and stockbroker colleagues.
Factoid: Suresh Giga Dabhi (43), who is a builder and social worker from Khar Danda, Khar (West), has more liabilities than assets. He has total assets worth Rs 20.5 lakh, but liabilities of Rs 21.03 lakh. On the other hand, for a builder based in Mumbai, Dabhi strangely has no immovable assets.
— Anjali Lukose
Milind Shankar Repe
Milind Shankar Repe (52), who will fight against the likes of BJP’s Gopal Shetty, Congress’s Sanjay Nirupam and AAP’s Satish Jain, is a production engineer who has worked for over two decades at the Tata Consulting Engineers Limited. “I strongly believe that unless educated and qualified people contest elections, this system will never change. I do not consider myself as the most eligible candidate, but I am educated and qualified. Hence, instead of waiting for such a candidate, I decided to contest myself,” says the Kandivali resident.
Infrastructure development, safety of women and employment security for locals are high on Milind’s agenda. “It’s not just about winning or losing. It’s about becoming an able representative of the people in this constituency. If I am able to convince people that I will not just voice their concerns and problems, but will also resolve them, I will win,” he says.
Milind concedes that the luck of funds can make a huge difference in campaigning. “We are spending from our own pockets. Besides, we are busy making rounds of the Election Commission’s office for small things, due to which we have not been able to campaign well, unlike candidates of prominent political parties. All the campaigning I am doing currently is by contacting people on phone and meeting people personally,” he says.
“I have been working in this area as a social worker for over two decades now. People know me well. If they consider my work and my qualification and not the political party I am affiliated to, I have a good chance of winning,” Milind adds.
Factoid: Of the eight candidates contesting from this constituency, six have not studied beyond Class 12.
— Dipti Singh
Many consider Gaurav Sharma, popularly known as “Spider Man”, plain entertainment. He dresses, poses and jumps around like Tobey Maguire’s character Peter Parker in the movie Spider Man.
Sharma, however, is a professional climber and fitness trainer. His election symbol, a window, is symbolic of him jumping from window-to-window to reach out to people, he said.
“I have been attached with NGOs for underprivileged children and I am well aware of the issues slum-dwellers are facing today. In Cuffe Parade’s Ambedkar Nagar, there are 20 to 30 toilets for the over 30,000 people living there. Sanitation is a major concern,” Sharma says.
With cluster development and working against child labour his other priority areas, he says that while a candidate is allowed to use not more than Rs 70 lakh, he has not even spent a lakh as he strongly believes that instead of wasting money on campaigning, one should construct toilets.
“I don’t know about my chances of winning. I don’t even know if my own people will vote for me,” says the 31-year-old, who is pitted against sitting Congress MP Milind Deora, MNS’s Bala Nandgaonkar, Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant and Aam Aadmi Party’s Meera Sanyal.
“In 2011, the Jan Lokpal Bill movement inspired me to enter politics. I wanted to contest on AAP’s ticket, but Sanyal got that chance. So I decided to contest on my own,” he says.
While Sharma has not even passed class 10, he feels his knowledge of locals living in the constituency is enough to drive it towards better governance.
Factoid: Among the Independents contesting in the constituency, except one, who holds diploma in international journalism, all other candidates are not educated well. While one has studied up to class 8, another has failed the SSC.
— Tabassum Barnagarwala
Mumbai South Central
Siraj Ahmed Khan
For 12 years, former auto-rickshaw driver and Gulshan Baug resident Siraj Ahmed Khan (42) has been tormented by the scene just outside kitchen window, of a clogged drain, bobbing with stuffed multi-coloured garbage bags, and its accompanying stench. Repeated visits to the civic body’s office for over nine years, and from corporator to the sitting MP, did not help. While the “other side” got a community hall and such other amenities, he says Muslim colonies in his constituency remained unattended.
Last week, he claims, civic workers finally descended in his backyard to clean years of bureaucratic sluggishness. “That drain sadly is a metaphor. Years of neglect and now elections were here,” says a frustrated Khan, who now has vowed to “repair all things wrong” by contesting as an Independent. His chosen election symbol is a kite.
Khan, whose “to-do list” includes restoring “dignity and life” to the innocent Muslims falsely implicated in terror and other criminal cases, is a class 7 dropout and is backed by All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen Akbaruddin Owaisi Khan.
Years of “betrayal” by the ruling government, which “used Muslims only during elections”, has prepared Khan for political innings. He says he still remembers savage street bends, with blood and gore, during the 1984 Cheetah camp riots, to the careless and offensive remark by an RTO officer the afternoon he went to give tests for an auto-rickshaw badge and permit, “Khan, tum bomb kaha rakoge”.
The last two polls, Khan voted for Congress’s Eknath Gaekwad.
His main agenda – to give equal status to Muslims, Dalits and other minorities — has translated into agenda pointers like cardiac ambulances for the poor, cemetery for minority communities and a wedding hall for all.
Factoid: Most Independents in this constituency have modest assets. While seven have assets below Rs 10 lakh, three have assets worth over Rs 1 crore. A 58-year-old candidate, Mahadev Shinde, is the richest Independent candidate in the constituency. While he claims he is a retired ACP with Armed Police Force, he has assets worth Rs 53.5 crore. Most of this is in the form of an ancestral plot in Oshiwara, which is currently under litigation.
— Smita Nair
Ramchandra Gawde (50), an auto-rickshaw driver from Adarsh Nagar, Thane, is confident of his victory, relying on thousands of auto drivers in the city.
“I drive an auto-rickshaw for a living and have thousands of auto drivers in my favour, as well as the other people that I have come into contact with during my work for the Dhangar Samaj. I am 95 per cent confident of winning,” says Gawde, who is mainly concerned about issues affecting his colleagues.
“Costs of fuel and other related material keep rising every year, but the problems caused by this hardly find any mention. I will address these issues as well as those faced by the tribal population. I will soon release my manifesto,” he says.
The uplift of the tribal community is his other focus area.
Gawde is pitted against the likes of Shiv Sena’s Rajan Vichare and NCP’s Sanjeev Naik. He has dabbled in social work on a small scale in the past and has worked for the rights of the Shepherd community and other tribal communities.
Gawde is funding his campaign with the money he earns as an auto-driver. He says he has not asked for money from anyone and does not intend to do so in future. “Things are going well so far. I realise that there are candidates who have the financial backing of large political parties. But I believe every once in a while, the common man speaks instead of money, and I am sure that will happen this time,” he says.
Factoid: Of the 11 candidates from Thane, only three are post-graduates, two lawyers and an MBA degree holder. The others have studied up to or less than HSC, with the least educationally qualified candidate being class 3 pass.
— Gautam S Mengle
(with inputs from Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra, Manasi Phadke and Alison Saldanha)