Medha Patkar, 30 years a peoples activist, first time a partys candidate

Written by Abantika Ghosh | Updated: Feb 17 2014, 15:23pm hrs
Medha Patkars candidature from Mumbai Northeast has surprised even her colleagues in the National Alliance of Peoples Movements. She hasnt joined the Aam Aadmi Party and NAPM had decided she would contest as an independent rather than on a party ticket; her close aide Anna Hazare too would have preferred it that way, sources close to him say.

Patkar herself is known to have been reluctant about entering politics on a party platform, having stayed out of the contest in 2004 when NAPM sought to take on the BJP with its Peoples Political Front.

What swung the decision this time, despite the feelings of a lot of colleagues that I should fight as an independent, she tells The Indian Express, is the need to come out openly in support of a besiegedAAP. Initially the idea was to have an electoral understanding with the AAP and support each other but then I felt the time has come to come out openly in favour of a party that represents an alternative system and values. I am yet to formally join the party.

AAP sources say it was her equations with Prasant Bhushan, Ajit Jha and Yogendra Yadav that got her to agree.

Patkar, once a faculty member in Mumbais Tata Institute of Social Sciences and who later opposed the Tatas in Singur, has been involved with grassroots movements for 30 years. She shot to prominence in the mid-1980s with the Narmada Bachao Andolan that involved peasant and tribal communities. From her many fasts on land acquisition issues, an enduring image is that of Delhi police personnel dragging her away from Jantar Mantar. Yet she has also been criticised for her movement against the Tatas in Singur, where villagers reportedly threw tomatoes at her, and for her apparent indifference when people in Maharashtra, her state, were agitating against the Jaitapur nuclear project.

Daughter of trade union leader Vasant Khanolkar and womens activist Indu, she grew up in Mumbai. Longtime associate Dr Sunilam credits her with an ability to connect with all kinds of people, easily drinking from a roadside tap or sharing food from a volunteers plate. She has adjusted her lifestyle to that of the people she fights for, Sunilam says. It is true all of us in NAPM and Annaji were in favour of her fighting as an independent, but now that she has taken a call we will all support her.

The seat she is contesting is held by the NCPs Sanjay Dina Patil, and includes the predominantly slum belt of Mankhurd where Patkar has been working for several years. Of the Lok Sabha seats six assembly segments, the BJP and the MNS led in five in 2009. The sixth segment, which swung the result, was Mankhurd with its slum votes.

Inputs by Shalini Nair in Mumbai