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Mumbai's dabbawalas now want to be civic fathers

The city's legendary dabbawallas (lunch-box carriers) have now decided to join politics, starting with the forthcoming elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), an official said here Monday.

According to Subhash Talekar, the chief promoter of Dabbawalas Cooperative Housing Society (proposed), the lunch-box carriers want a say in the city's legislative affairs and resolve civic issues concerning the people in general and the dabbawalas in particular.

"However, we shall not put up any candidate, though we have strong pockets of influence in at least six BMC wards (constituencies) around the city," Talekar told IANS.

Instead, they would appeal to all political parties -- the ruling Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party combine, the opposition Congress, its ally the Nationalist Congress Party, and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena -- to consider giving tickets to dabbawalas.

"We have been apolitical since the past over a century and do not want to align with any particular party. However, we want them to encourage our tribe and give us tickets in our areas of influence," he added.

These areas include Andheri, Jogeshwari, Dahisar in the western suburbs and Ghatkopar, Vikhroli and Bhandup in the eastern suburbs, according to Talekar.

When asked about the issues dabbawalas would seek to highlight, he said all local civic issues concerning the ordinary Mumbaikar would be taken up by them vigorously.

These would be followed by the concerns specific to dabbawalas, like housing and better travel conditions on the Western and Central Railway, but these relate to the governments at the state and centre level respectively.

Talekar said that most political parties put up candidates who are so-called 'outsiders' and help them win the elections.

"But we have been living in Mumbai and Maharashtra since centuries, so why cannot they consider us as candidates? We are known for our discipline, efficiency, dedicated hard work, a good public image around the world," he pointed out.

Elections to the BMC's 227 wards are scheduled for early February.

Mumbai's dabbawalas, who have achieved a Six Sigma performance rating, have already been taken note of by international news magazines like Time and Newsweek, business schools and the US Trade Department, and were the only professional organisation to be invited to the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker-Bowles.

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