//At a Dalit slum, a BMC plumber humbled NCP

At a Dalit slum, a BMC plumber humbled NCP

We voted for Ravindra Pawar all these years, but this time we vowed to teach him a lesson, says RPI’s Gautam Sable
Rakshit Sonawane, Express India , February 09, 2007

Mumbai, February 8: At Thakkar Bappa Nagar, resentment against their big dada NCP corporator was brewing for long. But this time, the slum dwellers had had enough. They turned to Gautam Sable, their resident do-gooder and BMC plumber, for help. Sable didn’t disappoint. He quit his job with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, contested the elections and pulled off the impossible.

The February 2 results were startling: Not only had he won, but a sitting corporator of 22 years, someone as powerful as Ravindra Pawar, was relegated to the fourth place in the votes tally. A week later, and Sable still has had a string of well-wishers with bouquets queuing up in front of his hutment in what is a predominantly Dalit slum in Kurla (East).

“He used to come to us during elections to tell us that the RPI is an ally of the NCP and that there were orders from above to support him,” says Sable (39), a long-time activist of the Republican Party of India (Athavale faction), about Pawar. “And we used to vote for him all these years.”

This time it was different. Thakkar Bappa Nagar did not want to be taken for granted any more. Sable says the turning point came two years ago: Local residents had organised a cricket tournament and wanted a truckload of mud to level the Sahakar Nagar grounds, where it was being held.

“When I sent some boys to him (Pawar), he not only refused, but also asked who is Gautam Sable,” he recalls. “We spent Rs 3,500 and got the work done on our own, vowing to teach him a lesson.”

The BMC elections proved to be good opportunity. RPI (A) had severed ties with the NCP and there was anger among the Dalits over the Khairlanji murders. So, Sable decided to contest.

“I knew it was a big risk, because apart from the fear of being defeated, I was required to quit my job,” he says. “But the people of my locality encouraged me and my family members—wife Vandana, father Ganpat (a retired BMC labourer) and mother Chhabubai (a fisherwoman) approved.”

During the campaign, Sable says he received a number of calls asking him to withdraw his candidature. But there was no going back. And once the results were out, the fears of his opponents seemed justified. Sable won with 4,195 votes, defeating Shivaji Salve (Congress), his nearest rival by 1,990 votes. BJP’s Anil Lokhande polled 2,188 votes while Pawar was pushed to the fourth place with 2,045 votes.

“I could win because my locality voted for me en-bloc. Even the Muslims voted for me,” he says, claiming it was not just the anti-incumbency factor, but also the anger against the NCP (for the Khairlanji killings) that worked in his favour.

Overwhelmed by the people lining up to congratulate him at his hutment and at the local RPI (A) office, Sable realises his responsibilities have only increased. “Now, I won’t be fixing water-pipes for the BMC anymore.”

He has already made his own priority list. “I would like to set up a municipal dispensary in my area where tuberculosis is rampant because of the footwear-cutting business. Next in line is sanitation and water supply,” says Sable, who admits he is happy and relieved at having won as he had ended up taking frequent leave due to his “social work”, something his bosses at the BMC didn’t approve of.

Was there a plan B if he didn’t win? Sable says he would get himself involved with free-lance plumbing work, and continue being the “social worker” he has always been.

For the record, Pawar says he can’t recollect the Sahakar Nagar playground issue. “I don’t think it’s true,” he adds. Loser.