After four decades in the same Mumbai slum, Vimal Gaikwad is well used to politicians’ tall promises at election time, when the city’s millions of shanty dwellers become sought-after voters.
“The candidates just promise and say they will help, and then they do nothing,” said the 60-year-old grandmother, perched on the steps of her green-painted, tin-roofed home in the northeastern Bhim Nagar neighbourhood.
Winning votes from the slums is key to political success in the financial capital, where the elites are traditionally apathetic and around half of the population lives in tightly-packed shantytowns.
But when they go to the polls on Thursday in the latest leg of the marathon general election, slum dwellers say they won’t be fooled by last-minute promises to improve their lot — especially from the ruling Congress.
Mumbai’s current six MPs are members of Congress or one of its allies, whose coalition is expected to be toppled nationally by Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
A few weeks before the election began, the Congress-led state government extended a scheme making slum dwellers eligible for free housing.
“We believe in a slum-free Mumbai and we believe in rehousing slum dwellers, using that land for important infrastructure projects,” said South Mumbai’s Congress Member of Parliament Milind Deora.
Before the bill was passed, anyone who could prove they settled in their slums before 1995 was eligible under the scheme. Now that has been extended up to the year 2000, benefiting around four lakh extra households.
But slum residents and housing experts are skeptical of the news so close to an election, and many believe the scheme itself is flawed.
On the outskirts of Dharavi, 40-year-old Navnath Chaugule and most of his neighbours are now eligible for new homes.
By the banks of the Mithi River, with views across to the shiny commercial towers of the Bandra Kurla Complex, Chaugule recounted how they filled their swampy land with 60 trucks of rubble to make it habitable in the mid-1990s.
“Now the government is eyeing it. Wherever you see sugar, you will see ants around it,” he said, fearing the community would be forced to shift to the outskirts of the city to make way for new developments.
“If they want to demolish our homes, no problem, but we want rehabilitating here only,” chipped in his neighbour Faheem Ansari, 20, a driver.
Those in the colony said they would be voting for the Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP — if only to bring about a change from the Congress MP who previously won their vote.
“If there was a fire here no political party would come and help us. But to fulfil the promises not fulfilled, we need an alternative,” said Chaugule.