Lok Sabha 2024: Civic manifesto by Govandi voters for a better future

A snapshot of the hopes and expectations of voters of Govandi, a low income neighbourhood in Mumbai's north east constituency.

With the Lok Sabha elections just around the corner, citizen groups of Mumbai North East Parliamentary constituency in Govandi have been organising awareness camps for voters. These efforts are for those in the area, who feel disconnected from voting, or feel that they do not know enough.

They have been organised by groups, which have established themselves in the area through years of social service related activities, including Govandi Citizens Welfare Forum, Govandi New Sangam Welfare Society, Al-Khidmat vyapari Associations and many more.

By conducting election awareness programs and voting camps, these organisations aim to increase voter turnout, empower citizens to exercise their franchise, and strengthen the democratic process at the grassroots level.

Read more: Our cities are struggling; what do BJP and Congress manifestos promise them?

The need for these camps arises from the importance of promoting democratic participation and ensuring that citizens are aware of their rights and responsibilities as voters. Many in the area are unsure about the voting process, and have many questions about the technicalities involved in registering.

“How do I check if I’m already registered to vote?,” an older man had asked me when he came to a voter awareness camp. “What documents do I need to bring to register as a voter?” “Can I vote if I’m unable to physically visit the polling station on election day?”

“What happens if I lose my voter ID card,” is another extremely common question. Documentation and identification is required, and the process is difficult for those voters, who have low access to documents, or haven’t been able to safeguard their identification documents over the years.

Voter turnout and its significance

Given that Govandi is a Muslim majority neighbourhood, many in the area, across generations, are enthusiastic to vote. With the worsening culture of hate speech and violence towards Muslims and Dalits in recent decades, many feel they want to ensure a better future for themselves. Residents believe that informed voting is a tool to move towards this.

However, voter turnout can vary in different areas and during different elections, including in Govandi. While some residents may actively participate in the electoral process, others may be less engaged for various reasons such as disillusionment with the political system, lack of awareness, or logistical barriers.

A voting camp in Mumbai
A voting camp held in Govandi by The Govandi Citizens Welfare Forum. Pic: Faiyaz Alam

What I have noticed from running voting camps is that many people from the older generations have a strong sense of civic duty and regularly participate in elections. Those who are less inclined to vote often struggle with health issues or scepticism towards political institutions.

Read more: Mumbai: Which Parliamentary constituency do you belong to?

Trust in the voting process is important to keep in mind when we want to understand voting patterns. Some voters have confidence in the integrity of the electoral system and believe that their votes make a difference, but others may harbour doubts or suspicions about electoral fairness, transparency, or the influence of money and power in politics.

Govandi voters’ expectations and grievances

As a community leader, I often get to speak to many people in my neighbourhood about what they think about the current political scenario. A common complaint among many was that the previous MP was largely absent from the constituency and failed to address key issues affecting our community.

In addition, there was a sense that the MP was engaged in partisan politics, as opposed to representing the needs of the people.

A voter awareness camp in Govandi
During voter awareness camps, residents share their expectations from the future MP. Pic: Faiyaz Alam

“We want an MP who is accessible and engages with constituents regularly, listening to their concerns and addressing them effectively,” an older man named Saeed Shaikh, who works as an Auto Rickshaw Driver, had mentioned to me. “The new MP should prioritise development projects that improve infrastructure, healthcare, education, and employment opportunities in our constituency,” he said.

Another resident named Atik Ahmed Khan said that transparency is important to have a relationship of accountability between people and their elected representatives. “We expect the new MP to be honest, transparent, and accountable, with a commitment to serving the best interests of the community rather than personal or political agendas.”

“The new MP should be proactive in representing our constituency’s interests in the parliament, advocating for our needs and concerns at the national level,” he added.

Read more: What’s behind first time voters’ lukewarm response in these hot summer elections?

Key voter demand: Fostering unity in Govandi

An important demand among residents is for the elected representatives to foster a sense of unity among communities and empower minorities against hate speech and communal violence.

“We hope the new MP will work towards fostering unity and inclusivity within the community, bridging divides and promoting harmony among diverse groups,” another resident told me at the camp.

On 30th April 2024, Mihir Kotecha, BJP candidate of Mumbai North East constituency referred to Govandi’s Muslim population as “Topiwala Gunda ” and called the area a “Mini Pakistan.” In response to this, the Aam Aadmi Party complained about this to the Election Commission of India.

Hate speech such as this is common during election time, when politicians blame minority communities for social and political issues. As a result, many in our neighbourhood have felt unsafe, especially during these times, when powerful people with platforms speak about them in violent, derogatory ways.

Nafees Ansari, a local from the area told me during a voting camp, “This time we will vote against hate, vote against fake promises and fraudulent agendas. This time we will vote for progress, vote for change, vote for the MPs that are inclined towards the hearing of Citizen Welfare Forums, who represent the voice of the citizens/occupants/residents and the youth of Mumbai.”

Important civic issues flagged by voters

Many residents have spoken about civic issues such as poor roads, low employment opportunities and healthcare facilities. In addition, residents have mentioned a desire for social welfare programs targeting vulnerable populations such as women, children, senior citizens, and marginalised communities to address issues of poverty, hunger, and social inequality.

According to many voters, housing is a key issue in the area, and requires a welfare approach – where the state should invest in slum rehabilitation and low income government housing facilities.

Addressing these issues requires a comprehensive approach involving collaboration between government agencies, community organisations, and private sector stakeholders. The MP can play a pivotal role in advocating for the needs of the constituency and facilitating development initiatives.

The Govandi Citizens Welfare Forum Manifesto

Us at the Govandi Citizens Forum have spoken to many voters across different ages. We have also worked on various land, housing, and infrastructure related issues with the government and legal institutions over the years. Through these experiences we have put together a manifesto for future elected representatives to pay attention to.

We put together this manifesto to assert opinions from the grassroots, and to ensure that the people of our neighbourhood are represented. Pic: Faiyaz Alam

The aim of this manifesto is that the parties coming to power should pay attention to the economic problems, unemployment and social justice of the people. All political parties must uphold constitutional ideals and values such as inclusion, pluralism, federalism, rule of law and equal respect and opportunities without any discrimination of religions, cultures and languages.

Following are the demands of people residing in Govandi:

1. The Waste to Energy plant project, proposed in the area of Deonar Dumping Ground, must be stopped.
2. The Deonar Dumping Ground, must be closed.
3. A women’s degree college must be constructed within the vicinity of Mankhurd-ShivajiNagar Constituency.
4. The biomedical waste incinerator at Deonar Dumping ground is still operational, causing health issues to the nearby residents. It must be relocated as soon as possible.
5. Residential houses, part of Mankhurd-Shivajinagar constituency’s slum area, whose height is above 14 feet, should be seen as legal. These homes can be regularised as per slum development policy of state.
6. Health infrastructure must be improved through communication with each public health post of Mankhurd Shivaji Nagar constituency.

7.We want a secondary level health unit, as well a health care facility of the tertiary level.
The Shivaji Nagar APJ Abdul Kalam Nursing Home must be converted into secondary stage hospital. 8.A centralised government bank and ATMs must be installed in our slum areas of Govandi, Baiganwadi, Shivaji Nagar in large numbers.
9. The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) 2019 should not be implemented.
10. Public schools with CBSE / ICSE Boards, must be constituted in large numbers as per the population ratio.
11. 100% employment should be made available.
12. To curb drug peddling and consumption by enforcing strict in law and order and constituting an additional task force to overcome drug related problems on the ground. In addition, a rehabilitation for drug addicts should be constructed.
13. We want a commitment from candidates, that after winning, they will not move to another political party.
14. Free Electricity up to 200 units for all constituent residents of Mumbai north east, and all private electricity distributors like Adani, Reliance must come under the RTI Act.
15. Construct a marketplace, shopping malls, a joggers track, gymnasium and gymkhana in Govandi west area and a centralised library in Govandi.

Ultimately, a good government fosters inclusivity, respects diversity, and promotes social cohesion. It prioritises human rights, encourages civic engagement, and invests in education and cultural initiatives. Transparency, accountability, and empathy are also vital qualities, ensuring that all citizens feel heard and valued.

Building trust in the voting process and encouraging voter participation requires efforts to address systemic barriers, increase transparency, and promote civic education and engagement initiatives.

Community organisations, political leaders, and civil society groups play a crucial role in fostering trust and encouraging voter turnout through awareness campaigns, outreach programs, and initiatives aimed at increasing access to the polls.

We encourage all eligible voters to come forward and exercise their franchise on May 20th in Mumbai.

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