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Novelty and dark horses in Mumbai Lok Sabha polls

Novelty and dark horses in Mumbai Lok Sabha polls
Elections in Mumbai for the Lok Sabha seats this time has a novelty and some dark horses which were not there last time.

It was only Priya Dutt who won with a huge margin last time even if Shiv Sena and MNS votes were totaled. It is expected that in spite of anti-incumbency, she will do well and may repeat her victory this time around too. That is the feeling one gets walking across Bandra and nearby places. Other 
Muslim candidates have not been able to make a dent in her Muslim votes. 

MNS has consciously pitted candidates in the constituencies where Shiv Sena is contesting, thereby making two seats very precarious for the Hindutva alliance – Bala Nandgaonkar (MNS) contesting from South Mumbai and filmmaker Mahesh Manjrekar (MNS) contesting from Northwest Mumbai. Decidedly the Marathi votes will get divided from the middle in these two constituencies. Also, in continuity with recent past, the Congress and NCP cadres are not campaigning for each other in their respective seats, and a case in point is the silence of NCP MLA Sharad Rao in Northwest seat, and similarly the inaction of the Congress cadres in the Mumbai Northeast seat where sitting MLA is Sanjay Patil of NCP.

However, while the above three factors remain similar to the 2009 Lok Sabha elections here, the entry of strong candidates from Aam Aadmi Party in three seats have brought in a major novelty and the dark horses – social activist Medha Patkar in Mumbai NE, town-planner and RTI activist Mayank Gandhi in Mumbai NW and former banker Meera Sanyal in South Mumbai. 

The entire Maharashtra AAP machinery in the last one week since 17 April has been camping in these three constituencies and leaving no stone unturned to ensure victory in these as AAP candidates are in striking range now. Congress votes seem to be divided or diminished this time due to anti-incumbency, Congress-NCP disaffection, and Muslim disenchantment in these areas. And Sena-MNS bitter battle seems to be dividing the Hindutva and Marathi votes in South and NW constituencies.

A dedicated band of some 2500 plus volunteers working in every slum and lower middle class areas of Bhandup-Ghatkopar in NE seat is seen reminding the poor Mumbaikars there of the work done by their Medha tai for them, specially with regards to preventing demolition of slums, getting their civic amenities, and being with them in the struggles for dignified life over the last two decades. Even the middle class voters are speaking up in her favour. Rajesh Joshi, a mid-level government employee, notes, ‘Our NCP MP Sanjay Patil has not spoken in the Parliament even once and is not involved in any local work. Kirit Somaiya of BJP is interested largely in the stock market, and has some standing among Gujarati voters. Medha Patkar is rooted here, and electing her will give us a strong voice in the Parliament. She has an international recognition too.’ And that she is born Marathi is also helping her.

Similarly, the dark horse to watch out for in Mumbai Northwest is Mayank Gandhi, the Maharashtra chief of AAP, who has actually started his work in this constituency one year ago through people’s contacts, awareness campaign against corruption and for slum-rehabilitation plan, and identifying youths for volunteers.

Over the last two months, an average of 3,000 families in the 38 wards of the constituency, totaling more than 1,20,000 families, have been visited door-to-door by AAP volunteers, some once and some twice, putting forth their anti-corruption message and town-planner Mayank’s alternative plan for Slum Rehabilitation Authority to house each slum-dwelling family in a set-apartment of 440 sq feet each. 

Bringing in an element of novelty, AAP has been hyper-active through street-plays (Delhi based team and local teams both), music and dance along with padyatra every afternoon etc on one side, and through the social media (Facebook and Twitter) on the other. One factor in their favour is the voluntary support of people outside the traditional political class. Some 3,800 non-political people have registered to volunteer for AAP only in this constituency area. And a large number of local Muslim leaders, as those in Premnagar, Jogeshwari, or social organisations and intellectual bodies like the local Humanist International team, are pledging support for AAP this time. Interestingly, a good number of Marathi voters, tired with Sena-MNS endless squabbles and not wanting to vote Congress, want to try out AAP this time.

Finally, the most colorful campaign has been in South Mumbai, with the calm and somber Meera Sanyal, an elite banker and former Chairperson of Royal Bank of Scotland, going from door to door, slum to slum, and speaking endlessly to her voters. At least a dozen song and street theatre teams, including flash mobs, are adding more color to her campaign. Meera is creating impact with more than 3000 volunteers working for her, elite and common place, and with her stress on affordable housing, public transport revamp, protecting the last remaining open spaces of South Mumbai, and asking for changes in rent and tenancy acts, redevelopment of cessed buildings, and call for making available for the middle class at cheaper prices the thousands of unsold apartments in South Mumbai held by black money.

Meera says, ‘The MP of South Mumbai can help bring legal changes in urban planning and housing, help build consensus on issues of integrated rail system and better planned mono-rail, help create civil society pressures to protect open spaces.’

She also recounts that there are several documented evidences of corruption and failure to deliver on past promises of the Congress MPs (earlier Murli Deora and later his son Milind Deora), MNS local MLA and local Shiv Sena corporators. 

A high profile business executive, not willing to be named, says that a good number of political disinterested well-to-do voters this time are contributing to Meera’s campaign and are spreading a silent word among peers to vote for her.
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