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Home > Mumbai > Mumbai News > Article > Lok Sabha elections 2024 BJPs bid to woo Tamil speakers in Dharavi Will it work with voters

Lok Sabha elections 2024: BJP’s bid to woo Tamil speakers in Dharavi. Will it work with voters?

Updated on: 16 May,2024 07:15 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Eshan Kalyanikar |

As political heavyweights converge, Dharavi residents weigh promises against long-standing doubts

Lok Sabha elections 2024: BJP’s bid to woo Tamil speakers in Dharavi. Will it work with voters?

Tamil Nadu BJP President K. Annamalai and MLA Tamil Selvem during an election rally for Rahul Shewale in Dharavi

In Dharavi, the BJP and Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde) have been trying to woo the local Tamil population, many of whom have been living in the area for generations. On Tuesday, the BJP’s star campaigner in Tamil Nadu and former IPS officer Annamalai was in Dharavi on 90-ft-road, opposite Kamaraj Memorial Tamil High School, asking for votes for the incumbent MP Rahul Shewale.

He shared the stage with another local leader, BJP’s Captain Tamil Selvan, as well as ‘turncoat’ Ashok Chavan, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde, and Republican Party of India leaders. The primary theme of this rally was the issue of redevelopment. Chavan, whose speech was interrupted by the arrival of Annamalai and Tamil Selvan amidst cheers from the crowd, was presented as a prominent figure in the Maratha reservation movement.

Wooing the crowd

“There are vast communities in Dharavi who live in harmony. I want to tell every community here that they won’t be moved anywhere but given a house in Dharavi in the redevelopment project,” he said in Hindi. Before Chavan, Raju Waghmare, Shiv Sena (Shinde) spokesperson said, “Do not fall for things like BJP will do away with reservation. MLA Varsha Gaikwad and Congress have only scared people here. The development of Dharavi has gone for a toss.”

CM Eknath Shinde tried to woo Tamil residents with the redevelopment plan. Pics/Kirti Surve ParadeCM Eknath Shinde tried to woo Tamil residents with the redevelopment plan. Pics/Kirti Surve Parade

BJP’s Selvan roused the Tamil crowd prior to Annamalai “No one will be sent to Dharavi. People will receive their houses here. Congress does not want to lose on their slum votes, they know if people get houses in buildings then they will lose on their slum votes.” When Annamalai’s turn came to speak, the crowd erupted with claps. Many BJP workers in the back rushed to the front rows to capture a glimpse of him on their phone cameras; even blurred pictures worked.

“I’m sorry I’m not able to speak in Hindi or Marathi but I request everyone to vote for Shewale,” Soon after Annamalai, Shinde took over the event and said, “Those who have opposed redevelopment need to remember that this is for the poor. Everyone who stays in Dharavi will get a house. Not a single person will be sent outside. This is our promise.”

Voices of voters

Ayar Dass, 54, said he and many like him suffered a lot during COVID-19 as the trains came to a halt. “The gas cylinder has been expensive. Everything has become expensive. Annamalai is from our state but so what, our needs matter. I will be changing my vote this time.” 

Dass said he is inclined to vote for Shiv Sena (UBT) but does not know about Shewale’s primary rival from South Central, Anil Desai. Mumbai Vizhithezhu Iyakkam, a local activist group in the area working on civic issues, estimates the Tamil-speaking population in Dharavi to be in lakhs. “Leaders from Tamil Nadu coming here to campaign is nothing new even Congress has done that. But there is no representation in Maharashtra politics, despite about 25 lakh language speakers in the state,” said Srithar Thamizhan, chief coordinator of the organisation.

According to him, those like Annamalai have an audience of Tamil speakers but it fails to have any real influence. “Dharavi is driven by the issues here that impact everyone, not just the Tamil population. People want a better life, they want better education, they want jobs. Tamil population wants dedicated trains and comfortable travel to their home,” he said.

Vennila Muthukumar, 19, is a student of accounting and finance who works part-time in an internet cafe. She is a first-time voter, her father works as a driver and her mother is a homemaker. “I don’t want to vote but I have to, that is my responsibility. I have not thought about issues yet but I like Rahul Gandhi because he talks about jobs and education.” 

Srinivasan Devendra, 66, said he has been living in Dharavi since birth, as did his parents. “We used to like Congress’s Eknath Gaikwad but we also like Rahul Shewale and leaders like Narendra Modi. He (Modi) does not eat money.” When asked if he knew of electoral bonds, his friend Nagalingam Nadar interrupted and said, “He took that money and gave it to the party but did not pocket it himself.” The two had their doubts about redevelopment. “We have been hearing this for decades now. No one will do anything real for Dharavi.” 

Many in Dharavi are like these two friends who have their doubts about redevelopment even as politicians continue to attempt to calm their fears.  A Marathi speaker, Kavita Khandare, 45, wants the next government and the MP from South Central to raise issues of education for the youth of Dharavi. “My son is in Class 12. I want him to earn well and be respected, that only happens with education. Apart from that, I want someone to consider the lives of the poor and bring down rising prices.”

Another first-time voter, 21-year-old Pawankumar Naik’s family hails from Karnataka but has lived in Dharavi for the last 20 years. “We like Varsha Tai. She has done a lot for us,” he said. As a young voter who holds a diploma in electronics, he wants the next government to create more higher education opportunities. “(Eknath) Shinde is new so let’s see what he says here,” Naik said. He had heard of Rahul Shewale but had not heard of Desai.

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