Sunday, March 29, 2009

Eyeing change

Source: The Hindu



Party: Professionals Party of India (PPI)

Constituency: Mumbai South

State: Maharashtra

Mission Statement: The time has come to act for change, and stop simply talking about it.

From ophthalmic surgery, politics isn’t the most logical career progression. But on November 26, logic went out the window in Mumbai, says Mona Shah.

Dr. Shah is a candidate in the Mumbai South constituency of the recently-formed Professionals Party of India’s (PPI). An eye surgeon who practises in a South Mumbai municipal hospital, the 38 year-old, like many middle-class residents in this af fluent part of the city, wasn’t the most politically active of citizens.

Terror attacks

The November 26 terror attacks that struck South Mumbai changed that. “For me, as well as for a lot of people, 26/11 was the final straw,” Dr. Shah says. “A lot of citizens felt after that day there needs to be a platform for concerned citizens to get involved in governance. There isn’t a forum for that right now. The terror attacks were a final trigger to make citizens more politically aware.”

Dr. Shah launched her campaign in December, first intending to stand as an Independent.

The PPI, a Pune-based party founded in 2007 by a group of professionals which has a policy of only fielding candidates who have had no prior experience in politics, decided to support Dr. Shah’s candidature.

Dr. Shah is clear about her message and her target audience: the educated — and usually politically apathetic — middle-class. She will not have much trouble finding that audience in her constituency — South Mumbai has been the country’s most affluent constituency in previous elections, though delimitation has since considerably changed the constituency’s demographic profile.

“We want to reach out to the non-vote bank,” Dr. Shah says. “That is essentially the educated class of society, the people who generally have not taken the time to vote.”

Dr. Shah points out that in the last general election, only 37 per cent of the middle-class electorate in South Mumbai came out to vote. “If we can increase that to just 60 per cent or even 70 per cent, and half of them vote for us, who knows we may have a chance,” she says.

Her campaign is focusing on two issues that will resonate well with her audience: security and infrastructure. “The biggest challenge for Mumbai now is infrastructure,” Dr. Shah says. “We’re contributing crores of rupees in taxes but infrastructure is a mess. The whole system needs a revamp. Our emphasise will be on bringing in more funds from the Centre that the city has itself been contributing, to bring about change.”

Dr. Shah says she has had “amazing feedback” on the campaign trail so far, but is aware that the odds are stacked against her. “The biggest challenge for a new candidate is visibility,” she says. “Those that we get our message out to have been very supportive. But here is the problem. If a fantastic brand of medicine is available, and no one knows about it, well unfortunately, they don’t get to use it.”

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