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An old fight, with an AAP twist

Sixty-six years after independence, six out of 27 tribal hamlets in Aarey Colony are yet to be provided electricity.

A child studies outside her home in a tribal hamlet at Aarey Colony, which is yet to get electricity. Vasant Prabhu A child studies outside her home in a tribal hamlet at Aarey Colony, which is yet to get electricity. (Vasant Prabhu)

Mumbai North-West, the Lok Sabha constituency stretching from Goregaon to Andheri which was once regarded as the back of beyonds, has been at the centre of city’s transformation in recent times.

While a number of construction projects involving redevelopment of properties have changed its skyline with tall towers, the city’s first Metro rail is set to zip through the skies linking its southern parts — Versova, Oshiwara, DN Nagar and Chakala — to eastern suburbs.

So far as the Lok Sabha polls go, the constituency has remained a Congress bastion so far. But for a three-year period between 1996 and 1999 when Shiv Sena leader (late) Madhukar Sarpotdar represented it, it has consistently elected Congress candidates.

In 2009, now five-time MP Gurudas Kamat defeated Sena’s Gajanan Kirtikar by over 38,000 votes. Previously, late Sunil Dutt got elected five times from the constituency. After his sudden demise in 2005, his daughter Priya won and represented the region till 2009. In the last LS polls, the party nominated Priya from the neighbouring Mumbai North Central following merger of certain portions of the constituency with North Central. Kamat was nominated at the last moment, but he still won.

Kamat and Kirtikar are pitted against each other this time too. Kamat also has a new challenger in Aam Aadmi Party’s Mayank Gandhi.

In 2009, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) candidate Shalini Thackeray had cornered 1.23 lakh votes, playing the spoiler for the Shiv Sena, whereas the Congress had to contend with Samajwadi Party’s Abu Azmi, who polled 84,000 votes. While both these parties are yet to declare their candidates, political analysts and local politicians feel their impact won’t be so much this time.

The constituency has a unique profile with its pockets inhabited by different communities. While north Indian migrants dominate the slums of Dindoshi, Gujarati and Marathi speaking-community hold sway in well-to-do areas in Goregan and Andheri (West). The greens of Aarey Colony are home to over 3,000 tribal families. Versova is a microcosm of diverse cultures — besides the fisherfolk and the Marathi-speaking populace, it has a sizeable presence of Muslims, north Indians and south Indians. In Jogeshwari (East), almost every second voter is Marathi-speaking.

The issues are equally diverse. Sixty-six years after independence, six out of 27 tribal hamlets in Aarey Colony are yet to be provided electricity, water connections and sanitation facilities. There is only one school inside the colony and the internal roads are in terrible shape. “Our community was better served during the British reign,” laments Lakhma Page, the Patil (head) for the 27 hamlets. “We are ignored since we are not a big vote bank,” adds Sanjay Mahale (33) of the Gaondevipada hamlet, which is yet to get power and water supply. “I walk miles every day to fetch water,” says 20-year-old tribal Deepa Mere. The tribals are also furious about unauthorised construction inside the colony and the government’s decision to allot their land under cultivation to Force One.

In well-to-do areas like Versova and Andheri, horrific congestion levels and pollution are a bane.

In Goregaon, Dilip Patel, BJP’s group leader in the BMC, says stalled redevelopment projects of two big MHADA colonies, Siddharth Nagar and Motilal Nagar, will be a local election issue. In Jogeshwari (East), resettlement of families situated along the periphery of heritage Jogeshwari caves is a ticklish issue.

The fishing community in Versova and Juhu are demanding perks for self redevelopment. In affluent areas in Oshiwara, redevelopment of MHADA layouts and conveyance for societies is the burning issue. In slums of Dindoshi, slum redevelopment and denotification of forest tag for structures situated inside the notified territory of the Sanjay Gandhi National Park is the bone of contention. Voters across the constituency feel strongly regarding the need to improve amenities and facilities inside suburban trains, and along railway stations.

With the Congress facing anti-incumbency, the Kamat camp has already begun campaigning. “I had hardly 10 days to campaign last time. This time, I have had five years,” Kamat says.

Both Kirtikar and Gandhi, however, say “he is only making up for being invisible during five years, which won’t cut ice with voters”, a charge Kamat strongly refutes.

The Kamat camp is projecting the MP as an agent of development, crediting him for “bringing mass transport projects like Metro, monorail, proposed coastal road and elevated railway to Mumbai”.

While Sena is wary that Gandhi will break into BJP’s Gujarati votebank, Congress fears AAP could dent its traditional slum and Muslim vote bank. As part of their campaign, all candidates have taken on to social media in a big way. Gandhi is also planning jhadu yatras and flash mobs to spread the word among voters.

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