Mumbai South Central
Former senior corporate executive
Eknath Gaikwad (Congress),
Rahul Shewale (Shiv Sena)
It is difficult to identify 53-year-old Sundar Balakrishnan, Aam Aadmi Party’s (AAP) candidate for the Mumbai south central constituency, in the small group of volunteers campaigning for the party door-to-door in Asia’s largest slum sprawl of Dharavi. He is not wearing any special politician-like clothes and does not have any personal assistants trailing him.
Five years ago when the air was thick with the election buzz of 2009, and Balakirshnan was weighing his options as a voter, he had no idea that he would be projecting himself as an option for the public in the 2014 elections. He was comfortable with life, living with his family in Chembur’s Chedda Nagar area, and having a long stable corporate career.
“I only had one thing in mind. That when I am 50, I will give up corporate life and do something else, something to help people,” said Balakrishnan, clad in a checkered shirt and a trouser, and a Gandhi topi, ubiquitous among all AAP volunteers.
“In 2011, I joined India Against Corruption. I was myself very disgusted with the corruption around us. We have done a lot of work to help the poor in the Chembur area ever since,” he added.
Balakrishnan, who has a masters’ degree in financial management from the Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies at Vile Parle, was working as the chief executive at the Sca group of companies in the logistics and shipping industry. After a 30-year-long stint in management, in April 2013 he resigned from his cushy job and decided to work for AAP.
“I have my savings to sustain myself and my family. I have a house in Chembur that I have given on rent, so that brings me regular income. My wife is working with IDBI and my son is in the final year of engineering,” said Balakrishnan, justifying how he can now devote all his time to politics.
He has fierce competition in this constituency, which comprises Chembur, Sion, Dharavi, Dadar, Matunga, Mahim and Prabhadevi. He is up against Congress’ Eknath Gaikwad, a two-time MP, and Shiv Sena’s Rahul Shewale, who has vast experience in local politics and has been the chairman of theBMC standing committee for four years, and Aditya Shirodkar of MNS.
However, Balakrishnan does not consider the competition to be too daunting. “You go to Shewale’s ward. He has done a lot of work such a beautifying the area by putting up arches. But none of that work was required. He has not solved people’s problems. He doesn’t have a people connect. Gaikwad also has no people connect. And Shirodkar is new. He has done nothing so far to gain people’s confidence,” he said. (Manasi Phadke)
Former fund manager
Main rivals: Sanjay Nirupam (Congress), Gopal Shetty (BJP)
“Bhrashtachaar pe jhaadu maar,” shouts 29-year-old IT professional Pravin Lotankar while handing out pamphlets on behalf of the Aam Aadmi Party’s Mumbai North candidate Satish Jain.
Working for an IT firm in the city, Lotankar and his colleagues set aside at least five hours a day to participate in AAP rallies. Amid cheers from supporters and party workers alike, Jain, along with a team of AAP foot soldiers went door to door in Charkop, Kandivali west, as part of his election campaign.
“People need change and they are tired of the existing parties who have done nothing but cheat them,” said Jain, walking through the bylanes of Kandivali (West), shaking hands and greeting local residents with a simple ‘Namaste’.
Jain is a B-school graduate and prominent fund manager who gave up his lucrative career to take up full-time politics. The 45-year old finance professional, has served as the Portfolio Manager for HDFC and Executive Director for Morgan Stanley, among other posts, in a career that spanned eighteen years.
“We want to end the VIP culture. All people want is water, sanitation, electricity and security, which they are now getting now at exorbitant prices,” said Jain.
Shouting anti-corruption slogans, Jain and his supporters, mostly youngsters, marched into the housing societies. Wearing the AAP’s trademark white cap, Jain spent not more than ten minutes in each society, before continuing his padyatra.
Although residents welcomed Jain and responded with smiles, it was evident that Jain had his task cut out to win votes over the better-known candidates in the fray in the constituency.
“This party (AAP) is new, and Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam and BJP candidate Gopal Shetty have been working in this locality for years and we know them very well,” said Dakshaben Gajra (60) a resident of Sector 1 society at Charkop.
Within an hour, AAP workers marched in and out of societies, distributing pamphlets.“We are getting many calls from residents to come to their area,” said Abhishek Jha, a party volunteer.
“We are not sure what AAP is going to do in Mumbai. Jain is a decent man, but he has just recently shifted to Kandivali from Worli and might not know the area and the people here,” said Akhilesh Sonawane, a BCom student who stays in Charkop. “Jain just came and did namaste. He did not even talk to us,” said Sonawane. (Megha Sood)
High Court lawyer
Main rivals: Priya Dutt (Congress), Poonam Mahajan (BJP)
Dressed in plain brown pants, a white linen shirt and grey socks in floater sandals, soft-spoken Phiroze Palkhivala is the AAP’s unassuming candidate for the 2014 Lok Sabha elections for the Mumbai North-Central constituency. Unlike Medha Patkar, Meera Sanyal and Mayank Gandhi who have created a major stir this election season, as a candidate, Palkhivala remains largely on the periphery.
In fact, when the party asked Palkhivala, a lawyer in the Bombay High Court and nephew of noted jurist Nani Palkhivala, to contest, he refused.
“I had just joined AAP in January which was a huge step for me by itself. When the party asked me to contest I instantly refused, but then they told me it’s high time to stop thinking about ourselves, move out of the comfort zone and do something for our country,” Palkhivala said. “I am an HC lawyer, I have everything I want, yet suddenly I asked myself what am I doing here? If the opportunity comes and I am found wanting how will I look at myself in the future?”
However Palkhivala’s move out of the comfort of his South Mumbai residence to contest from North-Central has laid doubts on his ability to truly guage and solve the myriad problems of the area.
With an electorate of 17.39 lakh voters, North-Central encompasses varying economic classes, dense pockets of religious minorities in Bandra, Khar and Santacruz and some Sena-BJP strongholds in parts. In the fray for this seat are sitting Member of Parliament Priya Dutt, BJP candidate Poonam Mahajan and Samajwadi Party candidate.
Palkhivala, however, firmly believes AAP will surprise the country once again at the polls. Ditching big banners and loudspeakers for campaigning, he chooses to meet the people personally.
“While the affluent sections in the constituency are already supportive as they are aware of my credentials, I am focusing on reaching out to the slums, and gaothans and they are welcoming me with open arms. I am not worried about the election but the work to follow after we win is daunting as there is a lot to do,” he said.
Regarding his competition, Palkhivala referred to the Japanese martial art form Aikido and added, “The heavier they are, the harder they fall. Many people tell me they don’t want to vote for the BJP. With Priya Dutt, it’s a great advantage as they complain she has done absolutely nothing in two terms as MP. (ENS)