The effervescent smile on her face says it all. It perfectly accessorizes the rich sarees MLA Manda Vijay Mhatre drapes with e’lan. The landmark victory in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections has infused a renewed confidence within her. She believed she would win and she did.
Born on January 20, 1956 in a middle-class family, Mhatre started her social career from Belapur village in Navi Mumbai. Popularly known as Mandatai, she founded the Govardini Mahila Mandal and began working for the betterment of women in the village. Generating opportunities for employment was no easy task. Her popularity amongst the villagers rose when she won the first corporation elections of Navi Mumbai on a Congress ticket with significant votes in 1996. She followed her conviction always and rose to become the president of women wing of Navi Mumbai Congress.
After switching to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), party leader Sharad Pawar appointed her president of women’s wing. To address the problems faced by women in remote villages of Maharashtra, she founded Mahila Sabha of 26,000 women and thus strengthened the party. Mandatai remained connected to her roots and continues to reside in the village.
Entering the Legislative Council was the next logical step. Her sheer spirit and courage kept her going. Not deterred by the glass ceiling, she raised unsettling issues. Former President Pratibha Patil rewarded her ‘Best MLC’ award in 2005-2006. Contesting the 2014 Lok Sabha elections on a Bhartiya Janta Party ticket was yet another risk she took, one that paid her a rich reward.
- You are back in action. How does it feel?
I was always actively involved in social work. From a very early age, I knew I wanted to serve my village brethren. Conducting free health and blood donation camps, striving to educate children from poor backgrounds, raising issues pertaining to security of women in the corridors of power … I did all this and much more. I will now continue all my activities at a much larger scale.
- What is the road map for Navi Mumbai ahead?
Navi Mumbai residents voted for National Congress Part (NCP) for 15 years in the fond hope of getting higher FSI but their dreams of shifting to better homes have still not been fulfilled. After been elected and becoming the MLA, I raised the issue with the highest authorities and finally got the clearance for the same. Apart from that, I am striving to ensure the Project Affected Persons (PAP) are compensated. People have simple needs. Good infrastructure, clean and green environment, parks for children to play is all they want and we will provide all that.
- Do you think women make better politicians?
Yes, why not? I don’t belong to a political family and yet, I am successful. Women are blessed with love, compassion. The matriarch is the power center in every family. Politics is similar. Citizens are the extended part of a family. Joining politics means helping people unconditionally.
- You have been battling it out in a male-dominated field. How did it feel to be snubbed by competitors and treated like a mere showpiece?
It was not easy for me. The path was tough but I was determined to do the best. My competitors in NCP never highlighted or appreciated my efforts and achievements but the truth can never be hidden forever. People trust me and that is what matters.
- What is your source of inspiration?
I am very positive person. I wake up with a positive thought. I always think of what good can I do for people. I have hundreds of visitors very day with various requests. I try and help them to the best of my capacity.
- What are your hobbies?
Reading and hearing to good music. I have a good collection of books.
- How do you balance home and work?
I have a very supportive family so the task becomes very simple.
- Your message for women…
Do what you wish to do. Do not become a victim of violence. Always be open to learn, never lose hope if you are not successful but keep on trying. Success will come one day.
- You have taken up Wonder Park’s issue. Why? What are the other loopholes in Navi Mumbai which need immediate attention?
I had first visited Vashi’s mini seashore. I have asked the concerned persons to ensure cleanliness here. Wonder Park is such a beautiful place. The civic body has spent huge amount of money on it but as always, forgot about its maintenance. Today, it is in bad shape. The rides are not functioning properly. All this will be restored. I also suggested a botanical garden here.
- What are the other issues you want to focus on?
They are many issues and five years may not suffice but I won’t sit idle. CIDCO has developed the city and I don’t see why they can’t provide good infrastructure. Soon, we will see tall, strong buildings.
- How will you change the attitude of civic officials?
Civic officials are doing a good job. They will perform better when they are given a free hand and do not face political interference. I am sure BJP will also win the upcoming Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) elections with ease. As Modiji said, Acche Din Aayenge.
Pics by Farooq Sayed