Except naxal-dominated Gadchiroli district, elections went off peacefully in Maharashtra. The voter turnout was a healthy 60 to 62 per cent, Chief Electoral Officer Debashish Chakrabarty told The Hindu. Even as official figures were awaited, Mr. Chakrabarty said Mumbai would touch the 50 per cent mark.
In comparison, the embattled Gadchiroli reportedly faired better with a 55 per cent turnout. In Mumbai, winding queues greeted the eye in the slum pockets of Dharavi-SC, Ramabai Nagar and Mahim. Despite a State shutdown, the streets were abuzz with throngs of eager voters.
Clement weather added to the spirits and facilitated an outing. Bent over his walker, Mohammad Hussain, 52, a voter in Dharavi, braved train and bus commutes to cast his vote. “This is the only chance you get in five years. Whether it brings change depends on God’s will,” he said. The Koli family of four turned up in full strength at Dharavi.
For Sehal Koli, 22, a first-time voter, it was nothing more than a new experience. For her father, however, it was another attempt at change. “Things should change, but they don’t. The candidates have already vanished. Our expectations are never fulfilled. This time we have voted against price rise,” he said.
In the Shiv Sena bastion of Mahim, party’s candidate and TV presenter Adesh Bandekar paid a visit to a booth. “The mood is positive. I came to see the people. It feels good when you see grandpas and grandmas around. I found very few youths though,” he told The Hindu.
Prashant Dhamankar, 26, said: “We have always voted for the Sena and the Congress. Now is the time to try out something different. Some change should be effected.” Energy levels seemed high in the Dalit-dominated pocket of Ramabai Nagar slum, which has assumed a notoriety of sorts after the 1997 firing incident.
Groups sporting party insignia on caps, badges and bandanas poured onto the streets. Regardless of his disability, Shekhar Ghodke, 42, rolled in on his tricycle at a polling station in Ramabai Nagar, Ghatkopar (East). While the venue had a ramp, Mr. Ghodke’s booth was on the first floor. “I have no interest in voting. The women in my chawl told me to go vote. So I am here,” he said. For many, voting was an important exercise to assert their domicile in Mumbai. “You never know. What if you don’t vote and the next time your name is not there in the list at all,” said N.M. Hate.
In contrast, the plush locality of Walkeshwar in the Malabar Hill constituency, infamous for its electoral apathy, wore a deserted look. Most of the voters seen around 4 p.m. were senior citizens and those in the middle-age group. Balancing himself with measured steps, an elderly C.V. Thakkar said: “All the candidates have their agendas, we know. What is the point of thinking if your vote has a purpose? However, if you don’t vote you are committing a crime. It’s a right given to you as a citizen of a democracy, so you must exercise it.”
While voters were busy juggling the options before them, Arjun Pirmal, 63, was busy fighting to lay his hands on form 49-O and register a protest vote. His efforts, however, were in vain. “No one knows. There is no reply at all when I asked. I even requested the returning officer. They just tell you to go enquire elsewhere. Is this the way to reply? Finally, I had to vote. But this is not the right thing,” he said.