The Times of India
Mumbai, 2 March 1997
25. Muslims in Behrampada voted
in a pragmatic way
By Anil Singh

MUMBAI: Simply put, it was gutter-level politics, quite literally, which helped the Shiv Sena win the civic seat from Behrampada. The Sena was the only party which got the drains cleaned and had toilets built for the women of this Muslim-dominated slum in Bandra east.

Apart from their work in the area, a host of other factors went into ensuring the Senaís victory in the slum which witnessed some of the bloodiest communal riots in December 1992-January 1993.

To begin with, the Muslim leadership in Behrampada was divided.  While one group favoured the Congress, the other sided with the Sena.

The Samajwadi Party, which performed so well in other Muslim pockets, did not put up a strong candidate in Behrampada. Its candidate, Naseem Khan, polled only 1,473 votes and finished fifth among the 14 contestants.

The Congress, which is not a cadre-based party like the Sena, never recovered from the setback it suffered when its MP, Sunil Dutt, withdrew from active politics. Although Mr. Dutt is popular in Behrampada, he has stopped visiting it, according to residents.

The sitting Congress corporator, Gulzar Sheikh, is a discredited man. However, he stood as an independent and cornered 1, 114 votes, finishing sixth. The Congress candidate, Nirmala Agarwal, was the sitting corporator from the adjoining ward. She was pitchforked into this ward because of the change in ward limits this time. Ms Agarwal got 2,111 votes and finished second to the Senaís Virendra Jagade who got 6,829 votes.

The Republican Party of Indian (RPI), which did not have an alliance with the Congress this time, finished third.  Its candidate, Maruti Pawar, got 1,951 votes. The Janata Dalís Ahmed Kadri finished fourth with 1,507 votes.

The only other candidate who got more than 500 votes was independent candidate and a Congress rebel, Pandurang Thorat.

While the Sena benefited from its alliance with the BJP, the Congress paid a heavy price for the lack of an alliance with the RPI and rebel candidates. The low turnout in ward no. 79, about 40 per cent, was another factor which affected the Congress.

As Behrampada accounts for nearly 20,000 of the 40,000 voters in ward no. 79, the Sena banked heavily on Muslim votes from this slum. Its workers went about wooing the Muslims meticulously under the leadership of local Sena MLA Shrikant Sarmalkar. He was a corporator from Behrampada from 1985 to 1992 and has a support base there.

Observers say that the Sena benefited from another source. Mohalla committee workers such as P. P. Jamkhedar and Sushobha Barve and senior police officers such as Satish Sahney and Sanjay Pandey did commendable work to normalise relations after the riots. However, being apolitical, the mohalla committee took no credit for the work. The Sena built on this base and capitalised on the vacuum left by Mr. Duttís absence.

According to informed sources, the police indirectly helped the Sena by externing a Behrampada Muslim leader just before the polls. However, there were no complaints of rigging or bogus voting from Behrampada.

A Behrampada resident said on condition of anonymity that she voted for the Sena as the party had been helping them with their day-to-day problems. For instance, the Sena helped her get an electricity meter installed. Slumdwellers who do not have their own meters are fleeced by slumlords who provide them illegal connections.

According to Ms Barve, Behrampada residents were disoriented when outside support dried up soon after the 1992-93 riots. Several samaritans who had come to the slumís aid withdrew after they found that the local community leaders refused to stop fighting among themselves.

Left to fend for themselves, most Behrampada residents made their peace with the Sena, which was bending over backwards to woo them. Educated Muslim youngsters were the first to accept the Senaís offer of friendship. It is from this lot that a new leadership is expected to emerge in the coming months.

However, Behrampada residents feel that the Sena tiger will not change its stripes and that its support for them is largely a tactical move.

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