By Vidyadhar Date
Medha Patkar, the Aam Admi party candidate in Mumbai North east Parliamentary constituency, is easily one of the most clean and respected public figures in the country. But she is battling paucity of funds and inexperience in fighting elections.
Polls are a millionaire’s sports— was the headline of the lead story in the DNA daily of March 23 and it reflects the role of money in the elections.
The maximum expenditure for candidates for Lok Sabha elections was raised recently from Rs 40 lakh to Rs 70 lakh. Crorepati candidates spend much much more than the maximum permissible amount. But Medha is not sure if she can spend even Rs 10 lakh. She has a lot of volunteers and a good cadre of committed workers. But money is a big issue and the constituency is very big.
She has done a lot of work among slum dwellers for housing rights in this constituency and is assured of good support among the poor, especially Muslims, as also the middle class. She also exposed the irregularities in the Hiranandani complex in Powai where land meant for housing for the poor was used for building luxury apartments.
Money is increasingly playing a bigger role in elections than before. Nothing shows the sorry state of affairs more than the conviction on March 21 of Babanrao Gholap, Shiv Sena’s former social welfare minister, to three years’ rigorous imprisonment for possessing assets disproportionate to income.
Despite the long pending case, he was given the Shiv Sena ticket for the Shirdi constituency for the coming Lok Sabha election. That shows the clout of tainted money.
For Medha the plus factor is that the sitting M.P. in the constituency Sanjay Dina Patil of the NCP is seen to have done little work in the last five years, seldom spoken in Parliament and is seldom visible. Another advantage for Medha is the absence of a candidate of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena of Raj Thackery. In the last election the MNS candidates had taken away a large chunk of votes and Patil had won by a slender margin. Kirit Somaiya, the BJP candidate with a lot of experience in this constituency and former MP, has the advantage of money power and a substantial number of Gujarati-speaking voters among others. But Medha’s supporters contend that a good number of Kutchis are supporting her as the Kutch region has not benefited from the promised irrigation projects in Gujarat.
She has done sterling work among people displaced by the Narmada dam in Gujarat and neighbouring M.P. and Maharashtra and is especially a target of the BJP in Gujarat. She was physically threatened and attacked in the Sabarmati Ashram by BJP supporters some years ago. I was one of the few journalists who witnessed the incident.
Medha’s supporters say they are hampered by needless restrictions, we are not being allowed to put up banners or workers are being prevented from wearing Aam Admi caps. With money power the BJP gets far more visibility with lakhs and crores spent on advertisements.
She is often seen by vested interests as anti-development because of her opposition to big dams. What she has opposed are big projects in different sectors which wreck people’s lives in the name of development. Her supporters say she has a lot of constructive work to her credit. This includes low cost electricity generation in rural areas which inspired the film Swades. And several legislations have come about because of intensive struggles launched by her organizations including NAPM, National Association of People’s Movements, on various issues ranging from land acquisition and hawker rights, employment guarantee and housing rights. Among those leading her campaign are Sanjay Mangala Gopal, an engineering professor in VJTI and social activist , and Suniti S.R., executive editor of the journal Andolan.
While Medha represents a long tradition of social activism and struggle in Maharashtra, there is a counter , illiberal movement led by forces like the Shiv Sena and MNS. Far from opposing chauvinism some of the most prominent figures in the state are supporting leaders standing for divisiveness. It was odd to find two Bharat Ratnas Lata Mangeshkar and Sachin Tendulkar attending a birthday party of Mr Raj Thackeray earlier this month and looking like his fans. Lata Mangeshkar comes from a family that has supported Hindu nationalism. Tendulkar’s father Ramesh was a good poet and far from being narrow-minded. Tendulkar certainly deserves a better focus. As a member of Parliament he has done little so far and has come for criticism for not spending any money from the MP’s fund at his disposal, not even identified any project. (Courtesy: Countercurrents.org)
(Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of the book Traffic in the era of climate change. Walking, cycling, public transport need priority. [email protected])