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Why we don't need urban political families

By Mahesh Vijapurkar
April 15, 2010 14:10 IST
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The domination of the Ganesh Naik family in recent civic polls in Navi Mumbai is not a good augury for democracy, writes Mahesh Vijapurkar.

Urban areas are believed to be great levellers of people.

In each of them, each individual manages to make a living, each according to his ability and opportunity. This is especially so in Mumbai, the country's premier city.

In such locations, people make a living and try not to let the social and political differentials come into play so that they can move on ahead, on the wings of hard work and hope.

To expect feudalism to take root in such places is startling. It has consolidated with one family in Navi Mumbai which elected its city fathers this week. One family now has it all, the family being Ganesh Naik's, minister for environment in the Ashok Chavan ministry in Maharashtra.

Of course, it did not happen overnight. It took the family as long as it took the city to get where it is. The lives of the Naiks and the city seem to be tied tightly.

On the simple strength of the man and his family, the Nationalist Congress Party cast its net and won the right to run the civic body. Here, the NCP is a proxy for the man, not the other way around.

Ganesh Naik is an MLA and Maharashtra minister. His one son is a member of Lok Sabha and another is also an MLA. His family members have held the mayoral post in the city in the past and it is certain that his nominee, if there are aspirants from there, would grab the place.

Who can complain, because the people voted them to power? It would be carping criticism to say anything against this pattern, for after all democracy has sanctified them.

This makes politics the business of such leaders, whoever they are and because they wield tremendous clout in the region, and all threads run through them and if you can't put up with them, then you have to move to another party, it does not matter what the ideology is.

Personal rivalries get to the political platforms. People, again in pursuit of power, change sides. All you have to do is ask Vijay Chougule who left the NCP to become the district chief of the Shiv Sena. People and their concerns be damned.

It is said that there is nothing in the sprawling city in which the family does not have a say, at least in most or many cases. If politics and business get mixed, it makes for more potent political tonic for the key players in the game. Business interests and political interests are not allowed to clash; they simply cannot because they are nicely mixed and camouflaged.

I suppose if anyone has to be faulted, it has to be the city, not the man and his family. The city believes that they matter more than the city, and who can resist the temptation to explain away this cute little form of democracy? If it is that way, so be it.

Solapur is not a new city, the vestiges of the past linger there, one supposes. But Navi Mumbai, a new, if not modern city? A city of migrants and long distance commuters who seem to think that it does not matter who rules the roost for all he cares, because nothing ever changes?

Or is it because a migrants' city has people who are sojourners and have come to take what they can from the city and what happens there does not seem somehow to connect with the citizen? This disconnect could spell disaster for the city governance because absolute power promotes a crisis of sorts because arrogance overrules governance norms.

But as already said, that it should happen in a city is hard to swallow. If it were in the rural areas, one understands because the shackles of feudalism are not cast away yet. That this is an old disease is borne by the way many a rural families which control the power levers and purse strings.

I have seen a families, for instance like that of the Topes, led by Ankushrao which had virtually every elected post in the town and district of Jalna near Aurangabad. They, between them, during the 1990s held over 30 odd positions, from cooperatives to the Lok Sabha, including at one time, the leadership of the sugar lobby; the last, perhaps symbolically because there are bigger daddies in that arena who superintended him.

Jalna was a dominantly rural district with that town being the headquarters and when one family controlled all, it leads to a dulling of the democratic senses. One cannot survive in such situations without either supporting such dynasts or at worst, remaining neutral. One cannot oppose it and find life easy.

It has been seen in other places like Sangli, again barely a town but largely rural in the context of its politics and demography. Similarly, it has been seen in Solapur where Sushilkumar Shinde's wife tried her luck, failed and then the daughter went to the Lok Sabha.

For all one knows, the Naiks could even be well-meaning politicians but letting them run a place in perpetuity is a mockery of democracy. It is as if power alone matters, even if it is in local self-government in which the common man too ought to have a place, a voice and a purpose. All norms and niceties take a second place.

An entire city becoming centric to one single family is hard to believe. But Navi Mumbai has delivered that. If that can happen there, watch out for it can happen in other cities, especially those which are growing so fast and in reckless fashion, subordinating the place's interests to the politicians, especially the clans around them.

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Mahesh Vijapurkar