A Congress bastion for 15 years, Dharavi, home to Asia’s largest slum, is bracing itself for an interesting political contest ahead of the assembly polls.
Spread over 2.40 sq km and home to over 60,000 families, the sprawling Dharavi slum stands on prime land in the heart of Mumbai. The Congress has won every assembly election in Dharavi since 1980, barring in 1995 when the Shiv Sena won.
A legislative assembly seat reserved for Scheduled Caste (SC) candidate, it had braved the saffron wave of 2014, with Congress’s three-time MLA Varsha Gaikwad leading by 6,000 votes. But this time, the BJP and Shiv Sena, which contested the 2014 assembly polls on their own, have forged an alliance that is determined to upset the Dharavi assembly constituency.
Gaikwad, daughter of veteran Congress leader Eknath Gaikwad, currently helming the Mumbai Congress, has been chosen by the party to defend her seat. The Sena-BJP alliance has fielded Shiv Sena’s Ashish More as their candidate. The Dharavi constituency is dominated by Dalits and Muslims, key vote banks for an electoral victory in the assembly segment.
In 2014, when the ‘Modi wave’ struck and many big names from the Congress-NCP alliance failed to retain their assembly seats, Dharavi was one of the five constituencies in Mumbai in which the Congress could not be unseated. Political observers, however, feel that this may have happened because Sena and BJP contested the election separately. The votes that each of the parties fetched show that while Shiv Sena’s Baburao Mane had got 32,390 votes and remained in second place, BJP candidate Divya Dhole was third with 20,763 votes. Both Sena and BJP had jointly secured 53,153 votes, which was 6,000 votes more than Gaikwad who was in the lead. Gaikwad had won the election by securing 47,718 votes.
This time, the saffron alliance is emboldened with Shiv Sena’s Rahul Shewale winning the Mumbai South Central Lok Sabha seat, in which Dharavi falls, in the general elections held earlier this year.
A Sena party worker from Dharavi said that this time people of Dharavi will vote for change. “It has been 15 years and people of Dharavi are tired of dynasty politics. People are fed up with father (Eknath Gaikwad) and daughter (Varsha Gaikwad). Win of Shiv Sena MP Rahul Shewale from South Central Lok Sabha constituency in recent election is clear indication that people have rejected the Congress. Since Sena and BJP are fighting together we hope that people will choose for development,” a Sena leader told The Indian Express.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Sunday endorsed Gaikwad as a young leader and asked Dharavi to chose her again for she had a “Dil ka rishta” with its voters. Gandhi said that Dharavi has felt the pinch of the economic slowdown in the country with leather, wafer and recycling businesses that flourished in its nooks and crannies, taking a hit with the ‘Gabbar Singh Tax’.
More (47) has studied till Class 11. He has declared total assets worth Rs 68.94 lakh which includes his and his wife’s property. More was in Maharashtra Navnirman Sena with his wife Harshala More, a Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation corporator. In 2018, More was among the six MNS corporators, who defected from the Raj Thackeray-led party and joined the Shiv Sena. According to Sena leaders, the party had then promised More an MLA ticket from Dharavi. In 2018, More was also arrested for allegedly assaulting a civic employee.
AIMIM (All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen) Dalit candidate Manoj Sansare has also entered the fray from Dharavi, whose candidature, many feel, could eat into the Congress’s vote bank. Sansare hopes that his work as a corporator in Wadala and anti-incumbency will be the undoing of Gaikwad.
“The infrastructure in Dharavi is in a bad shape. There is no high school here for such a huge population. Even the health infrastructure is not enough. Dharavi needs a Sion-like hospital only for its about 10 lakh population. Congress has only done politics of division among minority community and won the elections. Gaikwad was a minister and still she failed to change Dharavi’s fate. I am confident of a win since those who have seen my work as a corporator will definitely vote me,” said Sansare while speaking to The Indian Express.
On the other side, Gaikwad said that people know her work and chosen her in last three terms considering that she is the people’s MLA. “You ask people of Dharavi they will tell you about my hardwork. I have always been there for residents of Dharavi whenever they needed me. It was because of my work people elected me in 2014 when there was huge anti-incumbency against Congress. And I am sure that I will win again,” Gaikwad told The Indian Express.
When asked about the long-pending Dharavi Redevelopment Project, Gaikwad said, “I have done my best to speed up redevelopment of Dharavi. I wrote several letters to chief minister and housing minister in last five years regarding issues in Dharavi redevelopment but there was no response to them. After my win I will continue my fight to change the face of Dharavi.”