The Marathi film Mananiya Mukhyamantri Ganpya Gawade (Hon Chief Minister Ganpya Gawade) was criticised as extremely exaggerated when it was made some time ago. People dismissed as the height of hyperbole, the very idea of a peon becoming the chief minister of a state. Events of the recently-concluded civic elections in Mumbai have proved that the story may not be as far-fetched as you think. For even if it is not all the way to Mantralaya, Jitendra Walvi aka Jitu, who has resigned his job as a civic peon, is going to the gorgeous Gothic headquarters of the country’s richest civic body as a corporator. Vishnudas Sheshrao meets him to record his remarkable story.
AS Jitu the peon, who used to deliver letters and other urgent matters to civic councillors and officers in various corners of the city, under deadline pressure and till late night, this man was like any other worker in the Municipal Secretary department. And like the rest, he had to wait for months to get paid for his over time (OT) work. Today, when Jitendra Walvi comes to the BMC, his boss will salute him, because he has won the right to represent the people of Ward 47, comprising largely the Adivasi pada and Golkul Nagar in Goregaon (East). And considering how Lady Luck seems to have shone down upon him so determinedly, who knows, if performance meets promise, he may even end up as Prabhag Samiti President or even Mayor.
When we learned of this development, that a BMC peon had won a seat in Corporation Hall, we realized that we had never actually come across Jitendra. But that is hardly surprising. Even among peons there will be a hierarchy, and Jitu was in the dispatch section, entrusted with the delivery of letters and copies of the agenda to councilors. Every day, he would come from home to CST.
Home turned out to be in Adivasi pada in the Aarey Colony in Jogeshwari (East), an area notorious for roads so bad that last year, at least two miscarriages happened there because of the potholes. Yet, in a moment of serendipity, when we met, there was an element of recognition. And then it turned out that two years ago, asked to cover Ganpati mandals in Jogeshwari (East), we were searching for a local who can help. Jitendra’s name came up as an enthusiastic helper. And the description was accurate for he took us around every mandal in the area, accepting nothing for his help but one cutting chai. So it was great to meet him again.
We have a feeling those easy days are over for Jitu who is already every busy meeting leaders, thanking friends and relatives and party members. This interview was done in the back of an old white Maruti Omni on his way to the party office in Dadar. For Jitu was fielded by and won for the Shiv Sena.
- As the councillor of your ward, what is the priority on your agenda?
A local hospital in Adivasi pada and a stock of anti-venom for snake bites! In the Aarey Colony there is only one hospital without a doctor which is under the jurisdiction of the state government. On the very first day, I would like to request the civic authorities to take this establishment in our area into their jurisdiction. Every alternate month, there is a case of snake bite. In this hospital there is no stock of anti-venom and patients need to rush to KEM, Sion or Bhagwati hospital for treatment. On the way to hospital, several people succumb. So this hospital and anti-venom is top priority for me; other things come later.
- What was it like, working for the BMC?
It was great! Being a peon, I saw the working system of the BMC and its hierarchical structure more clearly than even a student of political science. I believe this experience will help me. Both are very different worlds however. Earlier, I neither had a voice nor anyone to listen. This will change.
- What kind problems did you face as a civic employee?
My profile was to deliver letters and copies of the agenda to councilors a day prior to the civic meetings. We had to work till late midnight and make sure everyone got a copy of agenda or notices. The bad (if not worst) part was that we did not get over time (OT) pay for months. Sometimes, I badly needed money for family reasons, yet I had to wait for sanctions. But now I will definitely bring these points to the notice of the administration so my former colleagues do not continue to suffer.
- What are the problems faced by people in your area of residence?
Those who have visited Adivasi padas in Aarey Colony know that though they are in Mumbai, yet they are like tribal belts in any other area of the state. There is only one graduate in our pada. Basic problems are water, electricity and roads. I still remember, it was during the vacation after the SSC examination. I went to the Veravali gate compound to get water. Security man were not there so I opened a tap to take a handa of water. Suddenly a security man came, shouted at me and and kicked my pot which broke into pieces. It was worst day in my life. Water is the natural right of everyone, one cannot deny it like this and humiliate people for it.
We stay close to the Veravali water reservoir which supplies water to the whole city. But we stay on the top of the hill and the reservoir is below, so it was difficult to get water. Legislator Ravindra Waikar has been making a network of pipelines in our area from his fund. Now, roads are our priority.
- What is your educational background?
(Laughing) Commerce. First year with one ATKT (failed yet allowed to keep term).
- Why did you not continue it?
The time and the situation did not permit.
(Interesting interlude: The vehicle stops at a signal. A boy comes with bouquets in his hand. Jitu asks him in Hindi – how much. The boys says Rs.300 for a bouquet of red roses.
Jitu – Sau (Rs.100) me denge kya?
Boy – Nahi sab Rs.250 me dunga.
Jitu – Final Rs.105 me doge?
Boy – Sab kam se kam Rs.200 de do na!
Jitu – Rs.110 deta hu. Dena hai to de, nahi to rasta clear kar. The boy turns back, walks a few steps ahead and returns – Le lo sab. Ghar jane ka time hua hai.
We had to laugh but Jitu was comfortable. “It is my hard-earned money. I know the value of a rupee. I know how much time we have to struggle to get on. So I bargain for every rupee.”)
- When you take up your former colleague’s issues, you will come up against your former bosses. How will you manage that?
I am bothered about what is right and just. Once this thing is clear, then no problem. One thing is very clear for me, I am not going to BMC for ‘relation management’. People have chosen me as their representative to voice their grievances and get justice. My former boss will do his task and I will do mine.
- What was your family’s reaction to your plans to contest the elections?
The toughest to convince was my mother. She thinks that politics is not our job. She told me not to resign from my job as that is a life time guarantee of income and gives good salary, with fixed and 11am to 6pm timings.. My wife was convinced easily and she was with me during the election campaign.
- Do you consider politics as a career opportunity? And what will be your source of income meanwhile?
I do not consider it as a career; it is just an opportunity to work for people. I have a small piece of land in the colony. We grow vegetables there. I can see there is a huge market for ‘organic farming’ so I am planning to do more in it.
- Do you think that you can do justice to your voters? Are you confident enough to speak in front of 300 councillors, IAS officers and press?
I heard that some councillors prefer to go to Wikipedia and Google and news cuttings to learn about water problems in Mumbai. I don’t need to go to social websites to learn about my own problems. I have suffered humiliation for a pot of water. This is in my heart. You know, one can live without food for 21 days, without water for 7 days, without oxygen for 3 minutes, but one cannot live when justice is denied him. Life is not worth living then. One will understand this line when justice is actually denied. I learned it at a tender age. This knowledge and experience will fuel my words when I have to stand up and talk. And anyway, Marathi is official language of BMC!