With every fifth voter being a Gujarati or a Marwari, the Narendra Modi wave is most evident in the Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency. And the BJP is banking heavily on this to reclaim this seat, once considered its fortress.
The party, however, has its task cut out, with even ardent supporters acknowledging that the sitting Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam, dubbed an “outsider” in 2009, has consolidated his base after trouncing BJP’s five-time MP and former petroleum minister Ram Naik in 2009 by 5,779 votes.
With Congress facing anti-incumbency factor, the Nirupam camp is focussing more on his performance as an MP. “I have covered almost every nook and corner of the constituency in the past five years and have had regular interactions with citizens,” Nirupam claims.
BJP’s candidate Gopal Shetty, a legislator from Borivali, however, terms his claims as hollow. “He (Nirupam) has done nothing constructive and has failed to win people’s confidence,” Shetty claims.
In 2009, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) spoilt BJP’s prospects by polling over 1.47 lakh votes in the constituency. The party is yet to field any candidate. Despite Nirupam’s “performance”, Congress insiders say they might need MNS support to wrest the seat this time too. Shetty wields a considerable clout in Borivali, Charkop and Dahisar belts. The BJP is also hoping that Samajwadi Party candidate Kamlesh Yadav, a former corporator, will eat into Congress’s north Indian vote bank. Both parties are also looking to cash in on dissension within the opposition ranks.
While the Nirupam camp is claiming credit for the state government’s deemed conveyance drive and his contribution in pushing for the approval of the Centre’s new hawkers’ policy, the BJP camp is also projecting Shetty as an “agent of development”, showcasing various works carried out by him as a corporator and a legislator. BJP’s Kandivali legislator Yogesh Sagar also questioned Nirupam’s claim on deemed conveyance, claiming only 25 housing societies in the constituency had so far received deemed conveyance.
Just ahead of elections, Nirupam convinced Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan to initiate the process of declaring Ganpat Patil Nagar, considered the largest slum colony in the suburbs, as a censussed slum. With over 6,000 dwellings, the Dahisar (W) colony has a sizeable chunk of enrolled voters. Majority of the dwellings have come up post-2000, sources say. The MP has also been pushing for removal of forest tag on lands encroached by 25,000-odd slum structures located inside the Sanjay Gandhi National Park.
The constituency has a unique profile with pockets of concentration of different communities. In well-to-do pockets in Borivali, Charkop and Dahisar, if it is the Gujarati and the Marwari community that is dominant; Muslims hold the sway in Malad. The north Indians have a sizeable presence in Kandivali (E), whereas almost every second voter in Magathane is Marathi-speaking.
The issues too are diverse even as lack of civic amenities is a common complaint across the constituency. Curbs in redevelopment on slums and societies situated in coastal regulation zones is a burning issue in Gorai and Charkop, whereas horrific congestion levels trouble Malad citizens the most. In Kandivali (W) and Malad, redevelopment of a number of buildings has been stuck due to proximity to defence land. “Travelling on trains during peak hours is horrible,” says Borivali trader Paresh Mehta, demanding more trains.
The government has proposed to extend the Charkop-Bandra-Mankhurd metro service till Dahisar to decongest vehicular traffic, and Nirupam claims credit for it. The project, which was originally expected to kick-start in 2011, is yet to move beyond the feasibility stage.
The Shiv Sena-BJP represents three out of the six Assembly seats in the constituency in the state legislature. The Congress has two, and the MNS one.
With battle lines firmly drawn, aggressive poll campaigns are already under way. Among other things, Nirupam has made a bid to woo first-time voters by promising a separate “youth manifesto”. Shetty, on the other hands, plans to hold his own version of “Chai Pe Charcha” to connect with voters. “The quality of life in the constituency has been deteriorating. It needs to be spruced up,” says Malad resident Cerita D’souza.