Housing societies are new political battlegrounds | Mumbai news

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Mumbai: Housing societies in Mumbai and suburbs are fertile grounds for candidates rallying to make an impression. The increasing number of gated communities are self-contained cocoons with exclusive amenities and security – they are aspirational to the outsider, but it takes a nudge to expose what lies within, as was evident recently in a Ghatkopar housing society where polarisation between two communities became evident.

Union minister Piyush Goyal, fielded by BJP from the Mumbai North constituency, arrived at Neptune CHS, in Kandivali East, along with his family on April 21. (HT Photo)
Union minister Piyush Goyal, fielded by BJP from the Mumbai North constituency, arrived at Neptune CHS, in Kandivali East, along with his family on April 21. (HT Photo)

“Candidates go to large housing societies for campaigning as they are a platform to a village of people,” said Mrudul Nile, political analyst and professor at the Department of Civics and Politics, University of Mumbai. “They also choose where to spend their time and money wisely; they go with the voter list in mind to reach out to their demographics imagination, a term used by Pratap Bhanu Mehta, divided by income, religion, caste, etc.”

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This election season has seen a rush of political activity in these confines, predominantly by the candidates from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), as they embarked on the campaign trail ahead of the others. They are pushed by a well-oiled network, said Nile. It was visible during the Ram Mandir’s inauguration in Ayodhya, which led to celebrations within societies, marked by distribution sweets and events. A two-month lead time for BJP candidates such as Piyush Goyal and Mihir Kotecha also enabled their outreach, as opposed to delayed announcements of some candidates from Congress and Shiv-Sena (UBT).

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“The BJP candidates’ entry was made easier as many functionaries have either invested in houses in these new high-rises and towers in the western suburbs which has a large Gujarati, Jain, Rajasthani and Marwari population or they have a personal rapport with the office bearers of the housing societies,” said a political analyst, who wished to remain anonymous.

In an extreme situation, this led to opposition parties being barred from campaigning within some premises, like the incident in a Ghatkopar society on May 7, when a Gujarati-dominated housing society allegedly stopped Shiv Sena (UBT) party workers to enter their gates, as they were Marathi-speaking people.

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“We are not allowed in many gated housing societies, as they’ll probably expect a call asking them why we were allowed,” said Arvind Sawant, Shiv Sena UBT candidate from Mumbai South. The AAP’s Mumbai working president, Ruben Mascarenhas, echoed this sentiment, saying, “Many chairmen of housing societies are already allied with the BJP and don’t give us permission for campaigning, so we have to find other routes in.”

In such situations, campaigners meet resident collectives – some of who make the task easier for them by presenting their own charter of demands. Candidates have visited community centres, religious spaces, gymkhanas and resident collectives to get through them. For instance, Varsha Gaikwad, the Congress pick for Mumbai North Central, visited the Chandivali Citizens Welfare Assosiation (CCWA), where they handed her their ‘Chandivali Cha Manifesto.’ Bhushan Patil’s wife, Darshani, the Congress candidate from Mumbai North, is scheduled to meet residents of Kandivali Lokhandwala Township for their manifesto on Sunday.

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“Personal meet-and-greets between the are essential to form a clearer perception of the candidates,” said Nile.

Civic apathy in Kandivali East

When union minister Piyush Goyal, fielded by BJP from the Mumbai North constituency, arrived at Neptune CHS, in Kandivali East, along with his family on April 21, civic grievances poured out from an assembly of over 100 residents.

They demanded a multi-speciality hospital in the locality, a hawking zone inside Thakur Village, streamlining parking issues and the beautification of Sanjay Gandhi National Park. Rahul Tangri, chairperson of the society, said, “Goyal was quick to deliver — in a fortnight, he called back assuring us that a 400+ bed multi-speciality hospital was being built. He kept his promise.”

The minister’s arrival here was the upshot of the political party actively scouting for a large housing society in the vicinity with around 300 houses and commercial hubs, said Tangri. “They have been campaigning in our area for long,” said Tangri. “We don’t even know who is the candidate from the Opposition.”

When can we breathe easy in Bhandup?

Senior citizens of Dreams Complex CHS, Bhandup West, had many-a-bone to pick with Mihir Kotecha, the BJP candidate from Mumbai North East. “When will we able to take a breath of fresh air?” asked one. Another added: “When will we have easy access between Mulund East and West?”

The 4,000-voter strong housing society had invited Kotecha for a meeting in the society’s community hall. The 150 residents that turned up had an hour with Kotecha. The pollution from Kanjurmarg’s garbage dump was a conversation starter, to which Kotecha responded saying both Deonar and Kanjurmarg dump-yards would be shut by 2025, whether he is “elected or not”.

Traffic congestion outside the railway station, speeding up the Metro-4 work and lifting the suspension of concessions on railway tickets given to senior citizens after Covid, energised the adda with the politician.

Kotecha’s placatory response was: “Work of the Metro-4 was stalled for two-and-a-half years during the MVA government’s rule. 10% extra work is on every day. Work at Mulund on this route has been completed. The connection from Powai, Goregaon and the car shed at Aarey are done and will be operational in two months. The route will be functional in 15 months.”

That stenchy loo on Warden Rd!

On Friday, BJP’s Mumbai president and cabinet minister Mangal Prabhat Lodha set out on a hop-on-hop-off-like tour of five housing societies in the South Mumbai constituency campaigning for Yamini Jadhav, spending 15-20 minutes at each. He didn’t need to spend more time either, as Bhadresh Jhaveri, secretary of Warden Court, said, “We are Gujarati Jains, and Lodha is a Gujarati Jain. Has looked into all our issues for the last 25 years. That’s why we called him.”

Warden Court shares its compound with four other buildings – the cumulative voter strength here is around 300.

So why Lodha over Yadhav? “It’s too late to call Yamini Jadhav (Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena candidate); and we have already been convinced by Modi to vote for BJP. As for the Opposition candidate Arvind Sawant (Shiv Sena-UBT) – he has neither visited us not responded to our calls for the last 10 years,” he said.

In the meeting with Lodha, residents flagged the issue of an under-serviced public toilet that pollutes the air, compounded by taxi drivers parking haphazardly here leading to traffic jams. “This time, it is important politicians listen to us. They will take up our issues, which will help them in the BMC elections that will follow.”

Making them accountable

A gated society of 57 plots where 19 buildings and bungalows stand, Janki Kuttir, in Juhu, has almost 8,000 voters. On Thursday, both the candidates from Mumbai North West constituency — Amol Kirtikar, from the Shiv Sena (UBT), and Ravindra Waikar from Shiv Sena (Shinde) – visited the community. The former spent 45 minutes and the latter an hour.

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“We invited both since we are already connected with both parties,” said a member of the managing committee. “The sessions were productive. Kirtikar, who is standing for the first time, spoke about his way forward and how the present ruling dispensation was obstructing his plans. Waikar spoke about his past work and future plans if elected.”

Despite the vast population, only 50 attended both meetings. He argued, “That’s because the vast majority don’t care enough and have already made up their minds about who to vote for, if they vote at all. Local issues like the presence of slums outside their society, were predictably brought up, although they were not issues this election is being fought on.”

“The candidates are either asking for votes to get Modi back in power, or to get him out. But with the jumble of alliances, it’s anyone’s guess if anything will be done at all,” he said. “And yet, these interactions are important – it makes the candidates accountable, as they have to return to us in the next election.”

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