September 15, 2004
As if dozens of alert eyes are not enough, the gods follow your every step in Dagdi Chawl, home to don-turned-politician Arun Gulab Gawli. Shiva rules over the compound from a marble temple. In the ground floor offices, Sai Baba and Krishna smile benignly from portraits and a six-inch Lakshmi, in what looks like solid gold, rests on a tiny red carpet.
Visitors wait outside, holding applications for admissions, jobs and help. Others wait for their turn in the medical clinic. Not election-time visitors, an Akhil Bharatiya Sena activist assures. The detailed map in the office is still of South-Central Mumbai, the LS constituency Gawli contested and lost to the Sena’s Mohan Rawale.
But Gawli (51) is teeing off with an expansive gesture — ‘‘I’m gifting the Sewri seat to Sachin Ahir,’’ he says. A bitter family dispute saw the uncle-nephew duo pitted against each other in the Parliamentary election in April, with Gawli grabbing over 92,000 votes — causing Ahir’s defeat. ‘‘It’s in the family, we’ve made up,’’ Gawli smiles.
He himself is contesting from Chinchpokli and thinks it’ll be a close contest with the Congress candidate. The seat is currently with Congress MLA Madhu Chavan. His Akhil Bharatiya Sena will also field at least two other candidates — in Worli and in Nagpada.
Does he harbour ministerial ambitions? ‘‘Minister honge to logon ke liye kaam kaise karenge (How will I be accessible, if I become a minister),’’ he asks. Manifesto? ‘‘Huh?’’ Well, plans for the people? ‘‘All help for the struggling working class,’’ he says. The former mill-worker wants reservations in government jobs for mill-workers’ children and jobless workers made owners of their chawl rooms.
A lift for three ferries visitors up into the green-carpeted terrace. In the room alongside, a tiger-printed sofa sprawls on marble. Quirks of the wealthy devout await — a rock mountain with water splashing down, a flying Hanuman wielding an electrically twinkling mountain and a Radha-Krishna tableau complete with cow and calf.
‘‘My murtis of the gods are my favourite possessions at home,’’ Gawli says. He turned vegetarian a decade ago, ‘‘after I read the Gita’’.
Will the anti-incumbency factor tip the scales? ‘‘Kya kaha aap ne? (What was that?)’’ After an explanation, he smiles wanly. ‘‘People vote for whoever does work.’’ Dagdi Chawl probably thinks ‘‘Daddy’’ has done enough.
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