February 3, 2017 12:34:33 pm
A handshake and a pat on the back, followed by the phrase ‘Give us a chance, please support the cycle’, are repeated over and over in a row of buildings on Peerkhan Street. It is a four-hour routine for the Samajwadi Party’s Rais Shaikh before taking a break and then hitting the streets again. After all, with just two weeks of campaigning left, Shaikh can afford to lose no time. Though this is the first time he is contesting from Ward 211 (Nagpada, Madanpura, Sankli Street, Clare Road), it is actually a homecoming of sorts for Shaikh, who was born and brought up in this densely-populated heart of South Central Mumbai before he won the 2012 election from Ward 132 in Govandi.
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A sitting corporator, group leader and member of the BMC Standing Committee, Shaikh decided to contest from 211 when his current ward fell under reservation for a woman candidate following delimitation.
According to a detailed study by Shaikh’s campaign team, there are around 600 buildings in Ward 211. Having started canvassing for support over a month ago, Shaikh has covered around 125 buildings. “We have conducted 15-20 corner meetings with the residents of most buildings to understand their individual issues before visiting them. As I am contesting for the first time from this ward, I need to meet people personally — BMC elections are all about the localities and their people,” says Shaikh.
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Shaikh’s pamphlets are in Urdu as well as in English, and the content lays emphasis on education. In many houses he visits, he has to re-introduce himself as a sitting corporator from a distant locality in the suburbs, but he enthusiastically urges residents to read about his work in the municipal schools of Govandi where he has introduced the concept of virtual classrooms.
His pamphlet, with his motto printed in large typeset ‘Rise With Rais’, also mentions Shaikh’s work in South Mumbai.
As he walks down Peerkhan Street, residents in the buildings and in the Green Park BIT chawl on Sofia Zuber Road stop curiously. Many residents even invite him indoors. Some are unaware of the election dates and are happy to take the pamphlet and retire indoors. At the BIT chawl, however, residents welcome him with firecrackers.
While many in the Muslim-dominated locality promise to support him, others stop to express their personal opinion on the emerging political scenario. When Shaikh knocks on Hazra Yunus Ansari’s door, she has some advice: “Don’t be like other leaders. Bring some positive change in this area.”
Some residents launch into a litany of complaints regarding former corporators who never showed up after elections. Mukhtari Begum, 88, who has been living in the area since 1969, points out the residents’ obvious concern. “I hope God helps you win but you all ask for votes and then don’t come back again. I will vote for you but you must help us get this building reconstructed,” she says. Shaikh assures her that re-development and repairs of cessed buildings is a priority issue for him and promises to be available to address her grievances every step of the way. To tackle the issue of poor waste management, Shaikh has also recently distributed dustbins among buildings in the neighbourhood.
In the last BMC elections in 2012, the SP contested four out of eight electoral wards in E Ward, but won none. The Nagpada ward (before delimitation) is currently represented by Congress corporator Manoj Jamsutkar who is widely appreciated. Manoj Jamsutkar’s wife Sonam is now contesting from the adjacent Ward 210.
Shaikh says he will work harder and outperform the Congress leader, a promise that wins him many smiles and promises of support. With very little time left, Shaikh returns to the street, hoping to visit each family in each building in his neighbourhood.
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