The goons of Mumbai
INDRANIL MUKHERJEE/AFP As many as 70 percent of Mumbai’s poorest cast ballots, compared with fewer than 25 percent of the middle-upper class. (This figure is particularly striking compared with the United States, where, generally speaking, poor are less likely to vote than those with more assets and interests to protect.) Why is Mumbai different, then? In a word, patronage. Voters ...
As many as 70 percent of Mumbai’s poorest cast ballots, compared with fewer than 25 percent of the middle-upper class. (This figure is particularly striking compared with the United States, where, generally speaking, poor are less likely to vote than those with more assets and interests to protect.) Why is Mumbai different, then?
In a word, patronage. Voters in Mumbai’s poor areas turn out to vote at the behest of slumlords, who pay local politicians’ campaign expenses and ensure they get elected through orchestrating the voter turnout. Gerson da Cunha, who works for a good governance organization in India, reveals to the FT that,
Many of the people who deliver money and votes to the political parties are either goons or near-goons, so they tend to nominate goons.”
Old-school ward politics (much like that practiced by New York’s infamous Boss Tweed) has nonetheless brought some small-scale benefits to slum-dwellers who, in recent weeks, have seen water pipes connected, toilets set up, and free biryani to boot in the lead up to the municipal elections.
Overall, however, infrastructure in India’s commercial capital and most populous city is in shambles. One of the major obstacles to further development is slum encroachment onto land designated for major transport and state infrastructure projects. There have been major plans proposed over the last few years to give the city a “facelift” by demolishing slum areas altogether, and even turning the largest of them into a “tourist destination” complete with a golf course and cricket ground. The latter plan (and indeed others) explicitly incorporate providing alternative housing for current residents, though the likelihood of this actually materializing remains questionable.
Naturally, these issues have placed even further pressure on class divisions in Mumbai, where two thirds of the population live in slums. Finding a mutually acceptable solution to Mumbai’s town planning crisis is obviously fundamental to the city’s future development. But it’s highly unlikely that these issues will be tackled seriously by “goons.”
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