North-Central Mumbai candidates interact with voters

Pandemonium broke out at a ‘Meet Your Candidate’ meeting in North-Central Mumbai on Sunday as the political party candidates, their supporters and public tried to shout down each other amidst cheering, jeering and heckling on various topics pertaining to the Lok Sabha elections and national issues.

The stormy gathering witnessed some of the Lok Sabha candidates for this constituency –  including sitting Congress MP Priya Dutt, BJP’s Poonam Mahajan, Samajwadi Party’s Farhan Azmi, Aam Aadmi Party’s Pheroze Palkhivala and Independent  S Verma – virtually shouting back at the hecklers. In the front row, BJP Mumbai president Ashish Shelar stood and argued with an AAP supporter to allow the BJP candidate to speak undisturbed.

The meeting, which was organised by ‘AGNI JAAG’ H West Federation with social activist Shyama Kulkarni as convener, highlighted national issues and statistics including some that were eye-openers. India’s ammunition stockpile would last 20 days only in event of war; Navy is losing ships, submarines and personnel; the country is short of 30,000 military officers in spite of 51 per cent of the country’s budget being spent on defence.

The candidates all, however, agreed on the need for eradicating corruption and putting accountability mechanisms in place, bringing all political parties under the ambit of RTI and not putting up candidates having criminal records, besides treating juveniles arrested in rape cases as adults in court and also ensuring online filing of FIRs. Describing Article 377 as a blot on society, the various candidates said gays should have freedom to live and express themselves while keeping in mind public consideration.

To statistics, including National Law Commission stating need of 50 judges per million population, Poonam Mahajan (BJP) urged for more fast track courts and judicial reforms, while Farhan Azmi (S) expressed need for a panel to look into cases such as land given to Subhash Ghai, Rajeev Shukla and Ambani, besides judges involved in rape cases. AAP’s Palkhivala said judicial reforms were needed to expedite court cases and also more infrastructure where many judges were forced to write themselves due to shortage of staff.

Congress’ Priya Dutt chimed in to say that media ‘exposes’ were making the country vulnerable (where military was concerned) but the Government was bringing out the ‘whistle-blowers protection Bill.’ Police reforms are number one on the Congress agenda, though there would be no danda Raj, she said in response to a section of the crowd shouting for bringing back ACP Vasant Dhoble – who had become well-known for his raids on bars having bar girls in Mumbai.

Farhan Azmi (SP) said corruption and scams like Bofors, choppers and outdated equipment had affected the morale of the military and public. The 26/11 terrorist attack in Mumbai and Maharashtra home minister RR Patil’s subsequent comment of ‘Such chhote/mote incidents occurring in Big Cities’ necessitated removal of that minister from that post, he said while urging for uplift of Muslims from being forced to live in ‘ghettos’ due to discrimination in society. ‘The BMC municipal corporation has Rs 6,000 crore of which only 20 per cent is used,’ he said while urging for imposing a penalty for unused funds.

Highlighting the ‘stench of corruption’ in the defence ministry where ‘chickens for consumption by jawans on the country’s borders were being sold off without reaching their destination and huge leakage of fuel supply for military, AAP’s Pheroze Palkhivala said Mumbai’s rise to a world class city is being hampered by corruption and crony capitalism for which a holistic solution was needed.

Questioning the need for India to be sending rockets and satellites to outer space while the country went hungry, independent candidate S Verma said lack of political will and no decentralisation of power led to India continuing to be the ‘hunger capital’ of the world (because of the wastage of Rs 50,000 crore foodgrains annually) and also being now officially termed the ‘Rape Capital’ of the world due to rape crimes which occurred every 20 minutes in the country.
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