A daily wage worker whose slum colony in Gujarat capital Gandhinagar was razed in 2019 to make way for a hotel, raised Rs 10,000 in Re 1 coins from his supporters and deposited that amount with the Election Commission so that he can contest the next month’s Assembly polls.
Mahendra Patni, who is fighting the election from the Gandhinagar North seat as an independent candidate, paid the security deposit in coins earlier this week.
He said the displaced residents of 521 huts in a slum near Mahatma Mandir in Gandhinagar that were demolished three years ago, asked him to contest the election as their representative.
Patni was one of the residents of the slum which was twice displaced, first in 2010 when the government constructed the Dandi Kutir museum dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi not far from the hotel and then in 2019 when slum-dwellers were again forced to shift to a nearby area so that the hotel can be constructed on the land.
“I am contesting as an independent. I belong to a family of labourers and make my living as a daily wager. There were 521 huts which were razed to make way for a big hotel. Many of them were rendered jobless. We shifted to a nearby area, but have no water or electricity supply,” he told PTI.
Aggrieved by the government’s apathy, the residents of the slums as well as other daily wagers in the area collected Rs 10,000 in Re 1 coin and offered the money to him so that he can pay it as security deposit to contest the upcoming election, he said.
“Before being displaced, we had electricity in our slum. After we were forced to relocate to another area near the hotel, there is no water or electricity and no politician comes to our aid,” Patni said.
He said the local authorities were forcing them to leave their current place as well.
“When elections are round the corner, some government representatives and politicians visit and give us some assurance which they conveniently forget later. This has been going on since 1990s,” the independent candidate said.
He said he is being supported by the people who want just a few demands fulfilled from the government.
“If the government fulfills our demands, then I have no interest in contesting the election. We want the government to provide us a permanent space to live so we are not have to face another displacement.
“We also demand from the government to address the issue of regular harassment that daily wagers are subject to by civic authorities. They seize carts used for running small business and make poor people shell out Rs 2,500-3,000 to release them. This should stop,” he said.
Patni said there should also be a BPL list of slum residents so that those who are taken by contractors for jobs in government offices get a permanent job and a proper salary and middlemen are removed.
Voting to elect a new 182-member Gujarat Assembly will be held in two phases – December 1 and 5 – and ballots will be counted on December 8.