In February 2007 voters in the low- income, municipal housing colony of
Nehru Nagar in Mumbai’s eastern suburbs elected Sable, their local water de-
partment valve operator and neighborhood social worker, to represent them
in the Municipal Corporation, throwing out the incumbent councilor who had
been in the seat for twenty- two years and who was an established National
Congress Party leader.1 Sable won with a comfortable margin, campaigning on
a promise to bring public resources to bear on the neighborhood’s deeply de-
ficient infrastructures. He told the reporters who flooded his one- room home
that while resigning from his secure (if low- paid) public- sector job had been
a difficult and risky decision, he was ready for a career change; in any case se-
nior engineers in the M- East water department were growing impatient with
his increasingly frequent leaves of absence for social work activities (Udwala
2009). The chaviwalla’s tenure as municipal councilor would witness dramatic
changes in Nehru Nagar: the inauguration of a new health dispensary (part
of an effort to turn the tide on the neighborhood’s long- standing battle with
tuberculosis), the dredging of the neighborhood’s gutters, the laying of a new
below- ground water pipe, and the approval of a slew of new metered water
connections, made possi ble by the new distribution main. In 2012, when Sa-
ble’s electoral district was reserved for women, area residents happily voted
into office his wife, Vandana.
Pipe Politics
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