Mahesh Vijapurkar

What happens when an elected representative turns deaf to the people who elected him? Nothing much to the elected, for he or she has ways to win an election again. Caste, money, connections, patronage offered at poll time and given in the past, and even show of muscle and sometimes, its use.

Ideology is only a pretence, or more precisely, the flavor of the season, which can change from time to time. In our country, it does change as long as the ability to mouth allegiance to it, regardless of belief in it, gets votes. These together are what makes for a candidate’s merit.

There was outrage when Haryana’s MLA, Gaya Lal, switched sides thrice in a fortnight in 1967 which led to coining the mocking term for defectors, Aaya Ram, Gaya Ram. Mere changes in ideological commitment may not have been the reason but changing sides with profit is not unknown in modern Indian politics.

We have seen quick switches from one party to another, the intent being not only to protect one’s own seat but also to the family which in many ways is actually a family business, with constituencies being hereditary. The word people’ representative is thus passé. People come second.

One can count a large number of constituencies which have developed into their fiefdoms. These include several national leaders, where at least in one party, it could be a parliamentary party meeting where the extended family gather at the dinner table. These mock the people.

Activists have wailed their painful lament, “With builders in politics, who do we approach?” They are struggling to protect 1,560 acres of what is a monsoon sink which was earlier a wetland leased later to produce salt. The space in Vasai-Virar region within the large Mumbai Metropolitan region has been earmarked for a ‘growth centre’.

Like it has happened in Hyderabad, where ponds and lakes built over or colonised, led to flooding as recently as last year. The city has lost its monsoon sinks which if untouched would also be the lung for the urban spaces. But the greed for profit and profiteering and dovetailing of interests in real estate with politics has laid to many urban areas.

In Vasai-Virar’s case, the legislative constituency as well as the civic corporation are more or less owned by a family which has deep and wide real estate development and construction businesses. In such a scenario, the generally urban area, remarkably placid than the bustling and crowded Mumbai city – 80 km away – the people and the city lose.

One expects the people’s elected representatives to respect the collective interests of the constituency but not one’s own business interests. Of course, given our political and governance morals, the latter almost always wins, but that is not how it ought to be. If the people seek protection from floods, it is justified. It cannot be overruled for ‘development’.

In the past 30 years, I’ve seen only efforts to build more and more warehousing for people in the distant suburbs so it can supply work force for a thriving Mumbai – it’s wealth is calculated close to US$ 100 bn now – than a planned development which enables a walk to work architecture for the suburbs.

Development does not mean taking over 1,560 acres for a growth centre putting at risk an entire city region. If the area itself is fraught, what price the location of economic activity which could itself trigger a crisis? That is short sighted, but one cannot blame the political class alone. The planners, of the government, have themselves proposed it.

Vested interests have a stranglehold on everything that should matter to the people but are distorted to serve a class. The bureaucracy, the economic interests, and even planning, is inveigled into the process where the people are put last. Just think back and count where this has not happened.