My Conversations with Political leaders- A Dalit medical doctor turned politician
In this sub series, I plan to write mostly about my conversations with politicians across the country, these would be supplemented by my observations while seeing politicians and politics in action.
Unless I am writing about an inspiring leader, I am not going to name either them or their constituencies but would put forward their backgrounds and roles to make the narrative meaningful. I would largely refrain from making generalisations.
A Dalit medical doctor turned politician – Dr. Sidarth Yashwant Dhende
Represents one of the oldest slums in Pune
Dr Dhende grew up in the same slum fighting for basic services. He continues to run his medical practice in the same area. Nagpur chawl is the oldest chawl in the Pune city, it was supposed to have been regularised after a visit of Dr. Shankar Dayal Sharma (Ex president of India).
In his political campaign during his elections Dr. Dhende promised not only what he would but also what he would not do. He said he would not go to police chowki to bail out somebody who has been caught by police and he will not help anyone in getting a government job.
Key Focus Areas
He recently conducted a Ward Sabha (as prescribed in the 74th Amendment to the constitution- which enables decentralisation of power in urban areas) to pass a resolution on increasing the floor space index in lower income group housing. Incidentally ward sabhas are very rarely used as a tool in urban governance in India.
Floor Space Index (FSI) is the ratio of the total floor area of buildings on a certain location to the size of the land of that location, or the limit imposed on such a ratio. A higher ground coverage and higher FSI improve viability of affordable housing for poor in urban areas, where land prices are sky rocketing.
A typical day
He begins his day at 8 AM with a round of his ward; he has set up an office in his ward which functions from 8 AM to 10 PM. Then he sits in his office to meet people and listen to their grievances. Most of the grievances that people come to him for are related to the functioning of the municipal corporation. Most of these are about schemes related to water, public transport (increasing the frequency of buses), housing, and slum rehabilitation authority.
Then he sits in his clinic which is in the same area till 1 PM seeing mostly poor patients. The second half his day mostly goes in meeting government officials. He is a member of City Empowerment Committee of the Municipal Corporation.
Long Term Concerns- Room for poor in a growing city
One of his first questions is what has growing IT industry contributed to the poor of the city? The growing purchasing power has meant rise in prices of essential commodities as well as land and housing stock. The skilled employment seems to have gone mostly to the outsiders and not the city dwellers. The growing number of vehicles has meant that higher pressure on the roads of the city and regular traffic congestion.
He is deeply influenced by the Narmada Bachao Andolan and regularly participates in their conventions. His own party is very small but he is able to take support from other seniors. The corporation organised an initial training in Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration (YASHADA), which he found quite useful.
He thinks that a regular capacity building system should be in place to help politicians clearly understand their roles, government machinery and emerging issues.
His Biggest roadblocks
The biggest problems that he faces in his work are 1) All pervasive corruption 2) slow government machinery and 3) extremely competitive politics
If you wish to write to Dr. Dhende, pl send in your comments either here or at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will pass them on to him.