Country is Already Heading Towards Dictatorship, What is Right Only Decided by Govt: Urmila Matondkar
Matondkar said that people like Gauri Lankesh and Narendra Dabolkar are getting killed in broad daylight, adding that the country never stooped so low within five years.
New Delhi: Movie stars crossing over to politics is a tried and tested tradition. Making that journey in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections is Hindi film star Urmila Matondkar. She’s joined the Congress party and will be its candidate from the Mumbai North constituency where the party’s former Mumbai chief Sanjay Nirupam lost by over four lakh votes to incumbent BJP MP Gopal Shetty five years ago. So is the actor being set up to fail? Why is the once famously reclusive actor opening herself to the brutal scrutiny of social media? In a free-wheeling conversation with Anuradha SenGupta on Off Centre Urmila Matondkar comes off at her fighting best.
Anuradha SenGupta: On the day you joined the Congress you said, ‘Film stars are used to bring glamour and draw people to political parties, that's not wrong, but keep that aside for a bit, where I am concerned.’ Why should we keep that aside? What in your work experience makes you eligible to be an MP or a politician?
Urmila Matondkar: It is not about what in my line of work makes me eligible, it is the kind of person that I am and have grown over the years to become, is what makes me eligible. So, I come from a family which is extremely socially aware, I was made aware of my social responsibilities, very very early in my life and what people don't know today is that I come from a very very humble background. That as a child for many years me and my brother never had our birthday celebrations because in our capacity whatever my parents could afford that was given to some other social institution at that time. There is 'Anandwan' in Nagpur and there are many other small or big institutes so I do not have a concept of birthday parties. I have not shared this before, but I am only saying it today to underline my background. If you are an actor, your social responsibility is even higher, because everything that you are is because of the people who make you a star. That is why I have done movies like 'Maine Gandhi Ko Nahi Mara' or 'Pinjar' because I saw the social relevance in them. Apart from that, there are many other causes where I have been involved with, except I never believed in tom-tomming about it on social media and in fact, I never spoke about it because I think it is in a bit of bad taste.
We are recording this conversation, in Kandivali - Kandivali Dahisar, Borivali, Charkop, are all part of this Mumbai North constituency. What do you need if you were to become the MP of this constituency?
I was asked questions like, has she ever been to Borivali? I have. I have been to pretty much all the places in Mumbai and like I said because I had a humble start I have been everywhere. So what is important, what I feel I bring to the constituency and my political start is the awareness, this complete social inequality which has come into the society on many levels needs to be addressed and a lot of things need to be done about that, So that is why I am here and also, for the last five years I have been looking at it as a citizen of the country, tremendous unrest is there, intolerance has come up, suddenly there is religious intolerance. You know things are not about moving forward anymore towards progress, things have instead pushed us backwards in our thinking. There have been extremely disturbing circumstances, great intellectuals, thinkers, who are trying to make changes in this social scenario like Narendra Dabolkar, Pansare, Gauri Lankesh, they are killed in broad daylight. So many years have passed and nothing has been done about it. To the extent where the High Court has to intervene and ask the CM of the state that after having 11 different departments, why hasn’t anything done about it? I was a very keen follower of Narendra Dabolkar, I believed in his ideology and it was completely shocking that he was just taken away one fine day when the man was on a walk. I think it is time for every citizen to sit up and take notice.
The Congress manifesto has been released. When you go through all the things that the Congress wants to promise the electorate, how are you going to communicate the ideas your party stands for today?
I think the best thing that the party has promised for the people of Mumbai especially is the slum redevelopment project, wherein we have promised them a 500 sq. ft. houses and it is going to be a task, it is going to be a challenge, because trust me in this constituency, particularly, there are slums and slums, so I cannot say biggest because one is bigger than the other, so that needs to be taken to them. And of course, the NYAY yojana in itself is a very accomplished, very very challenging, but doable. Because it is a direct transfer scheme for which people do not have to go through any yojana and offers them a basic level of decent lifestyle they need to keep up so that I think is the biggest highlight. So those two and particularly for me the 6% going for education is also as interesting. And of course 33% (reservation) for women, that is of utmost importance.
How are you assessing your chances of victory? The incumbent BJP here would say that we are not afraid at all, because sitting MP Gopal Shetty has defeated your colleague Sanjay Nirupam in the last elections by a 4 lakh vote margin, so we are not worried about Urmila Matondkar. Are you being set up to fail?
I think that is great for them, I think it is fantastic for them, I wish I am in such position, anyway coming to the point, well I don't want to talk about whether they are happy or sad that I am here. I think the trolls against me and the many other things they have stooped down to, answers itself.
Are they worried?
I am not claiming that they are worried. Why would they be worried, their party is in the power which is the biggest thing in this country, so I would think they may be not worried about it. But I think let’s leave that for the people to decide, what I am not getting is, why the media has made this gentleman the biggest ruler or the biggest person. The biggest person in a democracy is the person who has people's heart, they have people's votes, so he had in 2014 and so did many other people because there was a wave of a sort going because so much was offered to you, so much was going to be delivered. Today the question, however, becomes, in five years has any party have managed to take the country down so much, on every level. I would like to remind you of those horrific days of Demonetisation when people were standing in lines, there are so many questions on every level. Unemployment has never gone to this level ever before. I mean what do we talk about, farmers’ suicide? I do not know, but the ultimate thing is religious intolerance, this constantly trying to suppress the voice of anybody who wants to say anything which is right at all, because the right is only decided by the government. So this country is already going towards a dictatorship.
So you are saying that you are not concerned about, whether they feel that they are going to sail through again and that Urmila Matondkar and the Congress party do not pose a challenge, that is not your concern?
It is not my concern right now.
But you want to win, isn't it?
Of course I want to win, I definitely will not fight a war to lose. I am going to do everything in my power to get out there, connect with my voters, with my people because I think there is only one hero in democracy, that is the people themselves.
You talk about religious intolerance and you have been the victim of trolling on one big count and that is the fact that you are married to a Kashmiri Muslim businessman. Has that personal experience of having an inter-religious marriage made you sensitive to the kind of attacks made on these grounds, on people?
I think that has been horrific, that has been the worst thing, I think they were expecting me to get scared and run away. See basically this is what exactly I am talking about, if big actors speak about the well-being of their children, what kind of society are my children growing up and they are showing concern over it, they are asked to go to another country, they are asked to shut up so much so that they behave as they have disappeared from the face of earth. I mean I should have been prepared but yet I thought this low because my question today is exactly, it proves my point even better. Why am I asked this question in modern India? Weren't we supposed to be a country that never asks this question, why should I ask you what your religion is? I should be asking you about your work-related things, it was never the India we lived in. This was never the level which politics dropped down. So much of money has been put into IT cells, that the same money could have been used for something else. Are you telling me that we are going to sit here in denial and say that oh nothing like that has happened, that is now how it works, so that is why somebody just needed to get up, go out there. I have been such a private person, I have ferociously guarded my personal life always. My wedding ceremony did not have more than 50 people because that is the way I like to live my life so if now I have taken this then I have to be ready for these things.
Does it not make you feel vulnerable?
Of course, extremely vulnerable, because it is not only me, it is my husband and his wonderful parents, you know they never even suggested or asked me or forced me or anything, to convert, but this Islamophobia, there is no denying it, it is in your face. What are you trying to prove and why should I be answerable about my religion and about how I follow it. I know more about Hinduism than a lot of them, but the question is why should I prove it to you? Who has given you the right to ask me that question?
So it is going to be tough going ahead?
It is always tough for people with strong ideologies, if you don't keep on constantly changing colours and words, it is going to be tough.
Urmila you are talking about strong ideologies and in some of my research that came up, did you campaign for Vinod Tawde of the BJP a few years ago?
I went for just one sabha of Vinod ji because I am from Konkan side and he said that there are a lot of Konkani people here and there was a promise. And I was so happy that you brought up this point because there was also a promise among zillion others to take an ST bus service, to take the train from here to Konkan because there were so many people from that region who were extremely hard working, low income strata people. They do not have a proper direct provision to go to their native place and they have those many days of holidays alone and that is what was promised and those are the subjects very close to my heart. So I went on a person to person level. And now that you have mentioned, let me also tell you that I also very big-heartedly, on a charitable basis, went all the way to Delhi in my very very busy schedule, in I think in 2014, to attend one of the events for "Beti Bachao Andolan". Would you not do that? Of course you would, you are a ‘beti’ no? And I did it as a ‘beti’. My beautiful little speech is on YouTube that I am really proud of, but it was headed by BJP, and I was under the impression that, like I said I was trying to be non-political and working for causes.
You know we need to talk about the Congress party in Mumbai. While a lot of people would want to know you and are excited about the fact that you are contesting, at the end of the day people have to come to the booth and vote. Do you feel confident about what the party has to offer in getting pass that victory post?
Anuradha, it has become historical the way people are coming together to get this government and party out. So what is been happening is, there have been all these different kind Sof small and big organisations and groups that support various causes, they have come on their own to me and said that we will lend you our support and that I think pretty much is happening all over Bombay, all over India I would think. It is historical that people are saying that we will vote anybody else but we want these people out. They are not going to tell us how we are going to live, what we are supposed to eat, the next day they will tell us on which day you have to attend a certain thing or not so that is what is where it has come to.
You know Govinda was the MP from this region and he did not do very well. His Lok Sabha attendance was very low and there were also reports that people could not meet him in the constituency and after that one term, he did not continue. Let us say you are in parliament, do you think people will have expectations which may be difficult for an actor to meet?
My dear, it is going to be difficult, not because of the actor that I am, it is going to be very difficult because of the lot of ‘no activity’ that has happened on lots of projects and issues, huge challenges, so it is going to start from below scratch which is going to be a bigger challenge than anything else and as to attendance and accessibility and all these things..
You are prepared for it Urmila? Because it is a very different life?
That is what I am saying, don't you think even I would have thought that I just have to go, wave my hands, smile and ask for votes and just sit there and relax. That is not what I am doing, my voice is already gone and I have 26 more days to pull on so that is happening because I am going out there, I am actually sticking my neck out there because I want them to feel that I am there for them and they will get that message from me. Trust me people never miss on honesty. Coming from a completely non-film background, you know going through my battles, hurdles, and struggles and everything. I am not comparing films to politics but I am just comparing the struggle and I am just comparing the honesty and here my honesty is also along with my integrity. The integrity of my thoughts and towards my nation that is what we are talking about.
Irrespective of the outcome do we see continue in politics?
(Catch the full interview at Off Centre with Anuradha SenGupta)
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