2May

In the run-up to the elections, Dharavi spots rare birds: politicians

Photo: Jon Hurd on Flickr

For the residents of Dharavi in Mumbai, known to the world as Asia’s largest slum, the run-up to elections is special — it is one of the few occasions that they get to see a politician.

With about a million people, Dharavi was a key constituency for those wanting to get elected to the Lok Sabha this year. It’s also economically important, with an annual turnover of Rs 30 billion (and that’s just what’s declared).

Dharavi may be poor, but it sits on a prime location as far as property developers are concerned. Successive waves of politicians have attempted projects to move the slum’s residents into new housing, and allow private businesses to move in.

Ballaji, 24, works in the family trade, making flower chains for weddings and other celebrations. He has a six-week old son and is keen that his young family have a secure future. He is dismissive of the politicians who come for their votes. He said the election period is the only time government workers come to help clear the rubbish from inside the slum.

“The politicians ask them to clean up during the election,” said Ballaji. “That is to show them they are doing something, so they can get enough votes from people.”

Ballaji said he did see one politician visit the slum in the run up to the vote, but it was the first he had ever seen her. He didn’t even know who she was. “She was walking around the area,” he said. “I don’t know why she came here, maybe to gather our votes. I saw her only that time.

“Maybe I’ll see her again — maybe after five years.” he added.

Ballaji also works as a slum tour guide. He loves Dharavi, and spends his time showing tourists the richness of the community and its entrepreneurial ethos. But he had few kind words for politicians and developers.

“The government talks about a lot of development projects but we don’t see any proper development here,” he said. “Now we’ve just finished with the election, let’s see — maybe we’ll get the same government or maybe a different government. We are not sure what the government is going to do. Let us see.”

Ballaji said that times were hard for many of those trying to make a living in the slum. His flower business was no longer blooming.

“Business is going down. Nowadays no one wears flowers in their hair,” he said.

“India, of course, is growing, but I don’t know where the money is going. The poor are still struggling. We don’t have proper facilities.”

He added, “I think the money is growing in the politicians’ bank accounts.”

But Ballaji wants to stay in Dharavi with his family, as it has everything he needs. For him, the slum development schemes touted by politicians would just mean him being uprooted from his community.

“The new generation will never look for government support,” he said. “The government is not going to do anything, nothing for us. We work hard to do better.”

Photo: Jon Hurd on Flickr

This story was also published on WoNoBo.com, our media partner.

1May

‘We need a responsible government, a responsible opposition, a responsible media’

Dr S Varalakshmi, professor, Mumbai

Dr S Varalakshmi. Photo: Jehan Lalkaka

Nobody can escape the relevance of political science today. It’s not just about elections. Political science touches our lives in so many innocuous ways.

I’m Dr S Varalakshmi, and I have enjoyed every bit of life’s journey. With the turn of the century, after my stints as a freelance journalist and then a senior manager for corporate communications with Tata, I dabbled with teaching as a visiting faculty and liked it very much. I quit working with Tata and have since been a full time teacher as the head of the Mass Media Department at Jai Hind College, Mumbai.

I did my PhD in the literary and political writings of Nayantara Sahgal. For me, politics is a fascinating journey. It’s so interesting to see how laws are being upheld, subdued, abused and even amended to keep up with changing socio-cultural times.

I have voted in every election that has taken place since I turned 18. Moreover, I remember every candidate I have voted for. Elections for me represent empowerment. When a citizen decides himself who he thinks is the right person for a post — that’s an empowering moment.

As citizens, we express our angst against the ineptitude of our leaders and want positive change to happen. An arm-chair critic cannot bring about change unless she or he participates in the electoral process. Thus, it is the duty of every citizen to exercise her or his franchise.

Think about this: Concerns over the security of women in the country led to mass candle-light marches. Corruption within the government sparked off a wave of anger that resulted in mass movements across the country. However, on election day, do the same people who spill out on the streets to voice their opinion cast their vote?

Very often, this public outrage doesn’t translate into people exercising their right to vote.

The Election Commission has taken the right steps to promote a higher voter turnout by declaring a public holiday on the day of voting but this year, interestingly, they have come out with a number of ads encouraging people to vote.

However, public responsibility is paramount. Do people perceive this holiday as an opportunity to socialise with friends? Or as an opportunity to celebrate social responsibility?

As a professor teaching political science, I believe that political awareness amongst my students has decreased. Students 8-10 years ago had the pulse of what was happening. Note that this is my perception and does not apply to the entire country.

I constantly strive to make my students be aware of and be interested in political science. What needs to be done is to relate daily socio-political events to the theory. Only then can they connect with current-day political processes. In addition, local communities must reach out to their community members and encourage them to cast their vote. Older people who have a history of good voting patterns must explain the importance of election day to the youth.

All of the above will build a sense of awareness, and in turn, make students part of a positive change.

As a professor teaching media studies, it is interesting to see the role the media has played. Ideally, the media is supposed to provide all parties with an equal bandwidth to express themselves. They must provide an informed perspective with regard to any political ideology.

While it isn’t wrong for a media house to have an allegiance, I would look forward to them being overt about it, as seen in the USA. The reason for this is – in the Indian context – that media houses position themselves as unbiased, but covertly align themselves to a political party. This is dangerous as it misleads public opinion.

In the past few weeks, candidates have used the media as a platform to say anything and everything that comes to their minds. It has been more theatrics than anything else. This time around, the elections are personality driven, i.e., a face has been put to every party, like in the presidential form of elections. This has, as a matter of fact, increased TV viewership!

Social media played a big role during these elections, and its importance will only increase during the next elections. This is a platform that must be targeted more effectively in the years to follow.

I would like to tell our political class a few things. First, to see themselves as individuals who are serving the nation, not leaders as the word ‘neta’ suggests. And second, even after 67 years of independence, tickets are still given based on caste and religion. Don’t do that.

At the end of the day, whatever the outcome of these elections, a responsible government is what is needed. More important, a responsible opposition that won’t let the executive run away with policy making. They must play their vital role in the functioning of a democracy. But most important, we need a vigilant and responsible media that will hold the government accountable at every step of the way.

As told to Jehan Lalkaka. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. 

30Apr

Why Baroda’s queen mother prefers Modi to Rahul

Shubhangini Raje Gaekwad, the Rajmata of Baroda. Photo: Vaihaysi P Daniel

Turning off a busy main road in Baroda, the scene suddenly becomes tranquil, away from the hustle and bustle of city life. Ahead is the majestic 19th century Laxmi Vilas Palace, an Indo-Saracenic Revival building surrounded by acres of flat grass complete with golf course, monkeys and peacocks.

This is the home of Shubhanginiraje Gaekwad, the rajmata (queen mother) of Baroda. After a long hiatus, she has made a political comeback as one of those who proposed Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s candidature for the Lok Sabha constituency of Vadodara.

We wait in a large room adorned with paintings of royals past, piles of books and a chandelier fitted with energy-saving bulbs. After a while we are invited into a bookcase-lined room to meet the rajmata, who sits at the head of a long table, her iPhone in front of her. On the wall is an old map of what was once the kingdom of Baroda, one of the wealthiest princely states, whose Maratha monarchs were among just five Indian rulers accorded a 21-gun salute by the British Raj.

Shubhanginiraje’s husband, the late maharaja Ranjitsinh Pratapsinh Gaekwad, was known for his passion for the arts and cricket and for his paintings. He was also elected twice (1980, 1984) to the Lower House of Parliament on a Congress ticket. The rajmata herself contested the Lok Sabha elections twice, once as an independent candidate in 1996 in Baroda and again as a Bharatiya Janata Party candidate in 2004 from next-door Kheda but without success. She speaks to Patrick Ward on Modi, Gujarat, communalism and Rahul Gandhi.

Does your nomination of Narendra Modi mark another attempt to enter the political fray? If so, why now?

I don’t know. When Mr Modi decided he would like Baroda to be his constituency, I was one of the persons he asked and I agreed because I am glad we are getting someone like him to represent us.

I am supporting the BJP for these elections. The people of Baroda don’t forget us. They still remember us.

Why did he ask you and why did you agree?

I can’t say why he asked me. Probably he wanted my family’s support. He wanted people from all walks of life to support him and I am not his only proposer. Also, I think he wanted to pay respect to our family and the work done by them. You talk to people in town and they still remember the good administration they received during the reign of the Gaekwads. This was during British India, of course.

Modi comes from a small place called Vadnagar, which was part of the old Baroda state. Baroda state was quite extensive, disjointed and vast. It wasn’t easy to administer the entire area, but it was still well done. At that time, only Baroda achieved cent per cent primary education for every child in the state. So, I guess, he wanted to emphasise that because he said, ‘I am a product of that. I received education in a small village because I was part of Baroda state.’

I appreciate Modi because of the credit he gave. Most often, people want credit for themselves. So I appreciate it when someone like him in his position thought of giving due credit. No one would have thought about it if he didn’t mention it. No one would have missed it. This is something from over 100 years ago. Did you know that there was a book published in the times of Maharaja Sayajirao about learning the ropes of good administration? Modi actually got it translated into Gujarati and English and gives it to all his administrative staff. “I give this book whenever new officers come so they can learn something from it, even how to deal with each other, but they would learn the good administration that prevailed in Baroda state,” he said on the day he signed his nomination papers. In a six-minute speech to talk about this for 3-4 minutes is quite telling.

palace

There’s talk he might win both Vadodara and Varanasi and will have to choose between them. If he gives up the Vadodara seat, would you or your son Samarjitsinh be interested in contesting the by-election?

That is for the party to decide. I have no idea just now. I might consider it if they think it is the right thing to do.

Most often, when royalty enters the political fray in India, they do very well. Why were you unsuccessful in those initial rounds?

Once I stood as an independent, so that was a little tricky because there are two big parties against you. Voters were also fewer in number and I remember the race was neck to neck. I got exactly one-third votes. The Congress candidate, who won that year, only won by a margin of 17 votes. It was all last minute and not much preparation had been done. There was also a lot of confusion.

Most people always associated my husband with the Congress. That year, the Congress fielded a candidate with the same last name — Gaekwad. This got people confused in the rural areas. Today, things are a lot better; voters are smarter, more educated.

The next time I stood as a BJP candidate, but I didn’t stand from Baroda, unfortunately. I stood from Kheda, a stronghold of the Congress. The sitting MP was there for two terms, and I told the party I was not at all keen, because I knew I was stepping into a disaster. At that time, (Atal Bihari) Vajpayeeji personally requested me and I got pressured. I said, “I think I’m going to lose, but because you telling me to stand, I will do so.” So I went and followed my party’s orders.

statue

Are you politically active? Do you attend party meetings?

No, I haven’t been very active since. When I stood independently, my husband had left the Congress. Before that he was not active and was totally disillusioned with the party. But having been in the party, he didn’t want to go and join another party. His temperament was not to jump from one party to the other. So he left the party. Otherwise he wouldn’t have canvassed for me.

He did more campaigning for the BJP later. He even campaigned for the BJP candidate in Baroda.

After (former prime minister) Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated, which was tragic, things changed. I think when (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi joined the party, he became totally disillusioned. Your worth in the party was just how much you could please some people. He said, “I can’t do those things.”

Why do you think the BJP is a good option?

They are a good option. What other choice do we have? Surely we can’t have (Congress vice-president) Rahul Gandhi? What are his credentials? He hasn’t proved himself by being a minister in a Cabinet, he hasn’t done a day’s job in his life. He hasn’t proved himself in any task. I feel, as a young man, one at least ought to go out and earn one’s living. All our young boys and girls are working so hard. But look at him. Here he is, a young fellow, accept him as prime minister. Why? What has he done?

Our country is so very diverse and complicated. It is not the same, every part is different. You need someone to have thought about these things deeply. Someone who is mature, and it is not just his age that’s an issue. Some people do their best at a young age. But he has done nothing.

monkey

Can Modi reproduce what he has done in Gujarat across the country?

He can try. At least you have a man who has sincerity of purpose and does his best. He has been working hard for the past 12 years in Gujarat. At least he’ll try his best. He is from the grassroots, he knows what is life, he has seen that. In all areas of Baroda constituency, he will definitely do very well. I am sure he is going to win, there is no doubt about that. I am sure he has already gauged that, which is why he has come here to a seat he was sure to win. He knew he was not going to devote much time to Baroda constituency, or any constituency in Gujarat for that matter. So, obviously, he was looking for a safe seat. He is concentrating on all parts of the country now, how much can he be here?

He is a good choice. They need someone who has drive, who has charisma, who can attract people with his talking. As a prime minister, Manmohan Singh is educated, probably much more educated than Modi, but he could not make a good prime minister, people never related to him. And then, of course, there were these two power centres, which was so pathetic.

It’s disgraceful, the office of our prime minister has been degraded thanks to the Congress president. Once a person is on that chair, we have to respect that chair.

What should Modi’s priority be should be become prime minister?

It should be to bring efficiency to the administration because the common man suffers because people who should be doing their job, don’t. Especially in government offices, applications should be dealt with in a swifter manner. People should be tended to, but people don’t do their job.

Also, great reforms need to be introduced in our judicial system. People wait for years to seek justice, but even after 40, 50 years, they don’t get it.

Lastly, a lot of attention has to be paid to infrastructure.

What about communalism?

Some people keep talking about it because they don’t want the people to forget about it. People just want to let it be, forget it and carry on with their lives. Everybody wants to move on. The youth is not bothered. They want jobs, they want to earn a living, they want infrastructure.

Communalism is always raised as an issue by politicians. They want to make an issue where there is no issue. I don’t deny that it is an issue, but it is prevalent all over the country. It is not like Gujarat has more of it than any other part of the country.

No doubt, what happened in Gujarat was sad, but the Congress government at the Centre has always harped on this as this is easy for them. They want to keep it fresh in people’s minds so that people outside the state believe the situation is worse that what it is.

We have had communal riots in Gujarat for many years. Even when my husband was in Parliament we had problems, but it was instigated by some local goons. When there is a Hindu festival, there is a problem and vice-versa. These situations are just manipulated most of the time.

inside

So you think the Congress raising the issue can create divisions?

Exactly. What was the need for (Congress president) Sonia Gandhi to call the imam of Delhi to her office and tell him, “Please tell all the Muslims to vote for the Congress”? You can’t do that. You may tell him in private, that’s all right, but you can’t call him and tell him and make an official statement on television. This means you are already dividing the country and its people.

Why are you dividing them on the basis of religion? Let anyone vote for the Congress, let anyone vote for the BJP.

What about the hate speech made recently by Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Pravin Togadia?

There are a few people like that, talking rubbish. But there are people like that on all sides. You can’t go on controlling the way people talk and elections only make people fiercer in their speeches. Politicians talk like that to divide the people, but as a party, the BJP has not tried to do that. Modi has tried to bring people together. The Congress, on the other hand, has only tried to appease the minorities, especially the Muslims, which I don’t agree with. Why appease them? Why aren’t there the same rules for everybody? Why can’t they follow the law of the land? This only makes other people irritated about the situation, causing an anti-Muslim vibe. This is the policy of the government, which benefits a few people.

This interview was also published on Rediff.com, our media partner. 

Photos: Vaiyhaysi P Daniel/Rediff.com

29Apr

Can Arvind Kejriwal be a giant slayer in Varanasi?

Arvind Kejriwal addressing a gathering in Varanasi, where he is contesting BJP's Narendra Modi. Photo: AAP

As the 2014 Lok Sabha elections begin to wind up, the BJP and Congress have intensified their mudslinging — even as one man continues to draw people to his cause. Arvind Kejriwal, 45, leader of the Aam Aadmi Party, is looking forward to a successful outing for his party, especially in Varanasi where he will contest against the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Narendra Modi.

His message, which can be summarised as ‘Congress is corrupt and BJP is no better’, has not changed since his campaign began. In Varanasi, he told people to vote for his party or risk a gas price hike. Unlike the Congress, accused by Modi of allegedly favouring Priyanka Gandhi’s husband Robert Vadra, and the BJP, accused of allegedly supporting the business interests of the Adani group of companies, Kejriwal seems to be concerned with what could be called a people’s model. He repeatedly told the crowd in Varanasi, ‘I am a fakir’– a poor man. At some point, he said he had only Rs 500 in his pocket.

This attempt, at various points in his campaign, to connect with the common people and present himself as one of them seems to have widely increased his popularity. He was recently named Time magazine’s most influential man of the year in its annual readers’ poll, pushing Modi to second place. He also dominated the list of the most-watched politicians on YouTube.

However, the contest he would love to win most of all is the Varanasi Lok Sabha seat for which he is pitted against Modi. He has said that his attempt to defeat Modi in Varanasi is not a battle of prestige but an attempt to save the country from the corrupt forces of the BJP and Congress.

Kejriwal also hopes the AAP’s candidate in Amethi, Kumar Vishwas, defeats Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi.

Modi has some reason to be worried because Kejriwal’s popularity is not just online. In December 2013, he defeated three-time chief minister of Delhi Sheila Dikshit in her own constituency. And he was only a rookie at the time.

Apart from Varanasi, Modi is also contesting in Vadodara, his home turf in Gujarat, an act some people have referred to as cowardice. Whether or not that’s true, winning in Gujarat and losing to Kejriwal in Varanasi would be an embarrassment to Modi. Will Kejriwal be the pawn that checkmates the king?

Photo: Courtesy AAP

This story was also carried in WoNoBo, our media partner.

28Apr

‘Next elections will throw up brilliant candidates. The surge of energy today will crystallise by tomorrow’

Maheep Dhillon, 42, Film-maker, Mumbai

Maheep Dhillon, Film-maker, Mumbai

Where is Shillong anyway? In Mumbai, I’ve often had to answer that question. My father was in the air force and since he was posted in places all over the country, I know about Shillong. But every time I mention Shillong, I’m asked, where is it?

As far away and as small it may seem to people in big cities, Shillong is a thriving town, the capital of Meghalaya in the North-East. People there are fully aware of the issues that confront them and know what they want from the government and local administrators. The level of commitment among voters in Shillong is very high. I know this because I went there to shoot a movie for the Election Commission of Meghalaya and the two questions I asked, “Will you vote and why will you vote?” crushed the stereotypes about a place too far away to matter.

I want people to watch this movie not just for its message, but also to realise and acknowledge that this beautiful land is part of their country, since it’s clear that many people have no idea at all about India’s North East.

India has two strengths – our youth and our secular diversity. We may complain about our education system, but it churns out very smart people with average IQ levels much higher than anywhere else in the world. My 16-year-old daughter is much smarter than I could even imagine being when I was 20. Today, I can never say that anyone is too young to know anything. And as a country, India has managed to achieve much social and economic development. You will be amazed by the number of subcultures that exist in one small city. But despite this diversity, we manage to hold together as a nation and that’s a strength we can never undermine.

We are an amazing country, but we lack good governance and good leadership. Everyone I speak to is fed up. They are fed up of the Congress and the BJP, the two biggest national political parties, and are going the AAP way. Though they are unsure of the AAP because of its lack of a political foundation since the party came into being just recently, the shift in their thinking is primarily because AAP is projecting a new India – a corruption-free India that wants intelligent leadership.

I am a Sardarni. I was in school during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 when Congress workers wreaked revenge on the Sikh community after Indira Gandhi [then Prime Minister of India and Congress leader] was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards. I remember witnessing a surge of hatred among all of us – Sikh and non-Sikh towards the Congress. The same thing happened in Gujarat under Narendra Modi. It might be a late awakening, but people have had enough of that.

When you don’t want someone with a history of sexual molestation to be your representative, would you want someone tainted with even the idea of communal hatred to occupy the Prime Minister’s office? I don’t say this because I experienced communal violence. Thankfully, nobody I know was affected during the 1984 riots. But even had it happened to Parsis, Muslims or Hindus, I would have felt the same magnitude of hatred. Your community makes no difference to me.

I have complete antipathy towards any party with a communal past. A 55-year-old gentleman says Modi is his God.  I ask him, from what point of view are you saying this? From the point of view of economic reforms, progress or development, or because someone close to you wasn’t murdered by Modi’s supporters? When you see an accident on the road, you are saddened, but you move on. However, you have to realise that it could have happened to you.

We bleed to pay our taxes, but what do we get in return? As people, not just as women, we need personal security. If you in government don’t utilise public money well, don’t pay police forces, don’t give the public better health facilities and better education instead of plumping up your own bank accounts, we will continue to have security issues. If you don’t take quick decisions, you don’t set a good example. Your leadership cannot say things like ‘boys will make mistakes’.

I want complete accountability and infrastructural facilities from my elected government. If my road is pothole-ridden when I need to get my grandmother to the hospital, I need to know who I can catch hold of.

Our infrastructure is abysmal. The electoral ward office in my neighbourhood is a hole in the wall, manned by people with very basic levels of literacy, who are rude and unorganised. You enter and are rendered clueless. The state government website, almost predictably, keeps hanging.

I am aware that the Election Commission is a fair, autonomous body and all the gunda-gardi (thuggery) that happens, happens at the political party level. But I have no idea why there is such a dearth of organisation. If you want people to vote, shouldn’t you make the process easier?

At the electoral ward, I saw an old burqa-clad woman, holding the registration form, trying to make sense of it by asking people around. No one could help, but her persistence didn’t fade. I see this persistence among voters today and it really touches me.

I am 42 and in my adulthood, I have seen a lot of general elections but I have never before experienced this huge wave of awakening that I sense among people today. This will be the first time I vote and blatantly say that our candidates suck; that they reek of jingoism.

But I am sure of one thing: the next elections will throw up brilliant candidates. The surge of energy today will definitely crystallise by tomorrow. I relate to the AAP for its ideologies but established political parties must also give us something like the AAP. We are waiting. We are hungry for change!

As told to Apekshita Varshney. This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

27Apr

“ A 56-inch chest is not needed to run this country, a big heart is needed. To run this country cruel force of power is not needed, but moral strength ”

- Priyanka Gandhi. Her response is to Modi who said during the Gorakhpur rally that it would take a “56-inch chest” to convert UP into Gujarat. -
26Apr

Mumbai MPs will have a difficult task pleasing its diverse population

Malabar Hill

You would have to have been living under a rock wearing cast iron earplugs not to have known there was an election going on in Mumbai. Weeks of rallies, megaphone wielding volunteers and mass leafleting sessions have been part of daily life here in India’s biggest city, and it would be difficult for any of its 13 million inhabitants not to have walked under the smiling faces of the major candidates as they peered down from massive billboards along every main road.

So there wasn’t much else on the minds of Mumbaikars — those who were awake, that is — from 7am on April 24 when the voting stations opened. The streets were strangely quiet — it being a public holiday — with even cabbies nowhere to be seen, and the air rather still, where there was usually the unending cacophony of car horns.

I spent the day in several areas of Mumbai South. The constituency is probably one of the most representative of Mumbai as a whole — from the slums of Byculla to the luxurious gardens of wealthy Malabar Hill. At a polling station on touristy Colaba Causeway, the first voters came in dribs and drabs from just after polls opened. The first were the older generation, who unanimously spoke of their pride and duty in taking part in the poll.

Eric Roche proudly presented his inked finger. He said his priorities in choosing a candidate were development and unity. “Uniting people is very important, or there’s fighting all over,” he said.

Development was also a top priority for Italia Rohinton. He thought a Bharatiya Janata Party victory was likely this time round, in part because people had suffered enough from rising prices. “They are not controlling the prices,” he said. “That’s the first thing the government must do. The first thing.”

Several others made the same point about prices, but some, like T B Delal, said that in order to achieve this a stable government was needed. “There’s no point in voting for regional parties,” he said.

But for Kamal, a young woman who stopped to vote on her way to work, the important issue could be summed up in one word: secularism. “I’m confident of the result,” she said over her shoulder as she briskly continued down the street.

Others were clearly tired of all the ballot options, but the principle of voting was what mattered. Jon was in a hurry, but what was important to him? “Today everything is important,” he said. “But I’ve been voting for so many years, and nothing ever comes of it.”

Colaba is a mixture of the various elements of Mumbai. To see what the richer folk think, I took a trip to Malabar Hill – the wealthiest part of Mumbai, and possibly all of India. Interestingly, the framing of the election issues had suddenly changed — now it seemed to be, who would best represent the local Marathi population?

Mangesh was part of a huddle surrounding an election information desk in the street. For him, it was all about getting Narendra Modi in as the next prime minister. “Corruption is the most important thing for me,” he said, “so it’s most important that Modi wins.”

At that point Sanjay pulled up on his scooter, its front adorned with a Shiv Sena sticker. “I’m not sure who’ll win,” he said. “Marathi votes are divided.” But if Shiv Sena and the BJP get the man in they want, “there will be 100% change”.

When I popped into an expensive Western coffee shop, the young counter staff were keen to hear who I was rooting for. “BJP?” they asked, “or Shiv Sena?” Nearly as an afterthought, one of them added, “Or Congress?”

In the taxi ranks at the top of the hill near an entrance to Kamala Nehru Park,  driver Rushan Taerri said he wanted a “strong man” leading the country — and that man was Rahul Gandhi. “Modi’s just the new guy,” he said. “He’s not confident at making decisions.”

The final part of the jigsaw that is South Mumbai was Byculla — a mixture of Marathis, slum residents and minorities, a far cry from the glistening glass high rises of Malabar Hill. At one voting booth a stone’s throw from the market, the final groups of voters were coming in.

Shailesh and Raika came with their children. “People want change,” said Shailesh, “and they are all coming to vote today for that.” He said that corruption had to be tackled, because it could be seen all over the world.

For his wife Raika, it boiled down to one thing: “Security for women.” “Write good about our election,” she said as she left, kids in tow behind her.

A young police officer closed the gates and started to turn latecomers away. “It’s very important for people to come and vote,” he said, after asking me a few questions about who I was. “Everyone cares about the election, it’s a very proud day.”

He said he had seen thousands of people through the day, and that his polling station had seen a high turnout. “I’ve been working for the past two days, but I’m proud to do that,” he added.

Mumbai saw a 53% turnout on the day, an 11% increase on 2009 but still lagging behind many other parts of India. Mumbai South saw 54%, not a huge improvement. But it seemed that political understanding was quite high among Mumbaikars, at least about what issues were important to them. Perhaps, with fears over disunity under Modi, corruption under Congress, and the unknown territory of the new Aam Aadmi Party, there was some hesitation in making their electoral mark. But it’s clear that whoever wins will have a difficult task to please the diverse mix of residents in Mumbai South.

Photo: Patrick Ward

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