Poonam Mahajan is having a great time attending Parliament. “It’s like school. It’s Right Track been a great learning experience,” she says, and she feels bad about having missed Parliament on the few days she has. “We have been sent here by people whose expectations are higher than before and we have to live up to that,” she says, adding that the parliamentary affairs minister and her party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, are closely tracking the attendance and participation of its elected representatives. No wonder her attendance record of 88% till December 3, is slightly higher than the average of 86% for all Members of Parliament (MP) and Maharashtra MPs’ 82%. And she has asked 71 questions compared to the national average of 29 and state average of 55. Her questions relate to topics ranging from the expansion of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai and the rehabilitation of slum dwellers who live near there to legal aid for undertrials.
As can be expected of a politician of her age, Mahajan, who turned 34 on December 9, is quite active on social media and has nearly a lakh followers on Twitter. She regularly puts up videos of her speeches in Parliament on Twitter and her own website. Her Twitter followers will remember her selfie with prime ministerNarendra Modi at a campaign rally in Mumbai.
Daughter of the late Pramod Mahajan, one of BJP’s strongest young leaders, Poonam defeated Congress incumbent Priya Dutt in Mumbai North Central in the Lok Sabha election by a margin of 1,87,000 votes. She garnered 56.6% of the votes and Dutt just 34.5%. Her constituency, which saw the lowest voter turnout among the six in Mumbai, comprises tony localities such as Bandra on the one hand, and slums in Kurla and Chandivali on the other.
Mahajan will have to walk the tightrope between satisfying these two different sections of society, whose interests may sometimes run counter to each other. Mahajan, however, does not see it that way. “I do not lie to my voters and I do not over-promise. Slum dwellers need to be rehabilitated. SRA is not Slum Removal Authority,” she adds. Poonam says a higher floor space index is needed for slum rehabilitation and to create enough open spaces which Mumbai sorely lacks. FSI is the ratio of developed floor space to the total plot area.
A 25-year-old ET Magazine meets near Kurla railway station says promises have never been in short supply among politicians. “How long will they keep talking about rehabilitation? When will they actually get to it,” he asks, requesting anonymity. About Poonam, he says it is too early for him to praise or criticise her.
His indifference notwithstanding, most people we talk to in her constituency have high hopes. Jennifer Fernandes, a civic activist, says Mahajan comes across as honest and sensitive. “She will definitely deliver the goods,” she says. Her friend, Vidya Vaidya, believes it does help that Poonam is young. “Younger politicians are better because they stay with us longer and are more idealistic.” Among their expectations is the governing of the Mumbai suburban train network by a separate body since, according to them, it does not get the funds it requires.
Mahajan, who is married to businessman Anand Rao, says she cannot isolate her constituency from the rest of Mumbai and that will reflect in the issues she raises. She adds that one of her jobs has been to educate people in her constituency on the roles of a corporator, an MLA and an MP, which not many are aware of.
Emulating her father, who rose through the BJP ranks thanks to his organisational and negotiation skills, may be easier said than done, but Poonam is leaving no stone unturned to do just that.