Quiet flows the Narmada heroine

Satyanarayan Iyer Mumbai | Updated on March 20, 2014


On the campaign trail with Medha Patkar via Mumbai suburbs Ghatkopar and Bhandup

Medha Patkar is in a hurry. “ Chalo chalo, jaldi chalo,” she tells her Aam Aadmi Party team waiting for her at Chembur in suburban Mumbai.

Dressed in a grey cotton sari, Patkar quickly walks up to her mother’s first-floor apartment which doubles up as the AAP office. “My mother stays with my brother nearby and I make sure that we get to drink a cup of tea together every morning,” says India’s celebrated crusader against large dams, who is now part of the political arena with AAP.

Patkar makes a few calls and notes down the schedule for the day on a piece of paper even as the minutes tick away. Just before stepping out at 10 a.m., she places a bindi on her forehead and then slips a magnetic belt around her waist to support her troubled back. It is going to be another hectic day of campaigning with public meetings in the sweltering heat of Mumbai.

Auto ride

Our first stop is scheduled at a transit camp in Ghatkopar, another suburb, which has been housing people for at least three years now. Patkar flags down an autorickshaw and almost immediately begins checking her diary as the ride begins. Police permission for rallies has been pending for the last two days and she calls a party co-ordinator to check out the status.

“Remind the police that they have a single-window for clearing applications. They have to give permission within 24 hours,” she tells him. The auto driver has no clue who his passenger is and keeps his eyes on the chaotic traffic.

A group of around 50 men and women is waiting at the transit camp to welcome Patkar with the traditional aarti. You will definitely return victorious, they say in a chorus, as the candidate smiles in embarrassment.

Patkar participates in two such meetings lasting a couple of hours each in different slums. She then walks for nearly four hours through the winding slums of Bhandup, a neighbouring suburb, as we struggle to keep pace.

The AAP trademark is all too apparent as Patkar takes on top leaders and corporate houses while the crowd breaks into spontaneous applause. “If you agree with us, then vote for us,” she appeals fervently as sweat lines her brow and slowly bathes her face. The 59-year-old social activist has the energy of someone half her age, as she makes nearly ten similar speeches through the day at different public meetings and town/slum squares.

Attention to detail

Even as her caravan moves from one spot to another, you cannot help notice Patkar’s attention to detail. While she instructs party workers and supporters to ensure better arrangements for the next rally, she is also making a mental count of the plush malls and reminds the crowd of the two different worlds that politicians have created.

The excitement in the narrow alleys is palpable as people come to get a glimpse of the candidate. “Last time, five lakh women did not vote in this constituency,” she gently reprimands them, while urging the crowd not to repeat the mistake this time around. “This is your fight,” Patkar reminds the people as they scream out in support. And the cavalcade rolls on.

Published on March 19, 2014

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