Mumbai: City of Dreams or Hopelessness?

Rising sky scrapers amidst the sprawling slums of Mumbai.

The city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is a city of huge contrasts. A population of over 21 million, with some of the richest men in India like Mukesh Ambani living in 27 storey apartment for just a family of  five and more than 11 million people living in slums such as Dharavi (Asia’s largest slum) occupying less than 13% of the city land area (!) without any basic facilities. Any govt. priority one would have imagined should have been towards directing its efforts to improve the conditions to those unfortunate lots who have been migrating to this city for several decades now, in search of livelihood and who are real wealth creators of this city. But in the minds of the state/ central govt. the slum dwellers constitute probably the last priority and are busy today fantasizing Mumbai as the next Singapore or a Shanghai in the making.

Land and rent prices in Mumbai are probably some of the highest in the world making it unaffordable for most ordinary citizens. Added to this are the land and real estate mafia who are busy gobbling up whatever land is left in the city by eviction of slum dwellers (backed up by the govt.) and rapid depletion of the city forest covers in the Sanjay Gandhi National park and mangroves along the coastline through encroachments, illegal settlements etc. With sky high apartments springing up everywhere for the rich and famous, bypassing whatever govt. regulations including environmental, with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) usually looking the other way (or hand in glow with the contractors), this is a huge real estate bubble in the making.

Adarsh housing society scam that rocked both state as well as central govt late last year and brought down a chief minister, is probably the pinnacle among the land scams in the city which truly showcased the brazenness and callous disregard for all laws, showing the kind of political – bureaucratic – contractor – real estate mafia nexus that has come to dominate the life of the city.

Gone are the days of left dominated trade unions of the 70’s and textile workers strike of the 80’s that dominated the city’s political life in what was once truly the Petrograd of  India. But due to the bungling of the Stalinist leadership of communist parties to the stages theory of revolution that gave away the leadership of the trade unions to a Mafioso like Dutta Samant and the eventual domination of the city’s political life by Marathi Manoos politics of the right wing Shiv Sena led by Bal Thackeray and communal polarization of the city following the Ayodhya riots that literarily tore city’s fabric on the basis of religion.

With liberalization and opening of the market have come the new colonizers – the financial looters in the stock exchanges and service dominated economy that has come to characterize the city’s economic life, with majority of the workers today belonging to the unorganized sector in place of the industrial working class that once dominated the city’s working population.

However, this is not to say that all is lost. The true nature of Shiv Sena and its business empire is an open secret today and people have seen through the false Hindutva propaganda of the BJP which is no more different from the rest of the political parties. With the leadership of the Shiv Sena crumbling following the split in the Shiv Sena and an ineffectual state govt. led by the Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (whose pro business and landlordist policies of the all too well known), there is real political vacuum both in the city and the state.

A city that has been stretched to its maximum limits, with its infrastructure all but crumbling and the resultant environmental degradation and human misery, the city is a living monument of capitalist degradation and misery. And in a state that is reeling under chronic crises in agriculture with highest rates of peasant suicides anywhere in the country and extremely low social indices for a so- called high growth state, the one missing element of a political alternative representing the mass of the working people and the peasantry is the need of the hour in the face of the brutal onslaught of capitalist globalization.

Anand Kumar