The certainty with which Annie Shekhar approached elections may have shaken a bit this time. Up for a fourth term, her voters and opponents have made no secret that they would have rather backed her son Vinod.
Now 76, age is catching up with Shekhar, prompting Vinod, a former BMC corporator from Colaba, to become the face of her reign. Like in the 2009 Assembly elections, BJP’s Raj Purohit presents her stiff opposition this time as well.
“The Congress has had a strong base in Colaba since Independence. Here, people have always voted for the party and not the candidate,” said Sambhaji Deshmukh, a former Congress corporator from Colaba.
For some residents, she no longer fits their bill of the ideal MLA. “The problem is that she cannot express herself or us anywhere. Why do I need a leader who cannot represent me? You need an MLA who fights for you and stands by you. Annie Shekhar cannot do that,” said Ashok Kanwar, president of Cuffe Parade Residents Association (CPRA).
Former MLA Purohit, who has positioned himself as the face of merchants and the middle class, said infighting within the Congress had prompted the party to field Shekhar over Vinod. “The Congress did not have another candidate and so nominated a lady who neither introduced any civic amenity in the constituency, nor resolved the water supply crisis in the slums. Why should the constituency suffer because of that choice?” he asked.
Purohit, who led several high decibel protests against the contentious local body tax in 2013, has built an image of a confrontationist.
“Merchants living in Fort and Colaba localities are likely to vote for Purohit because he has constantly opposed Local Body Tax (LBT) and octroi in the state,” said Ashok Patel, president of Fort Market Merchants Association.
Damodar Tandel of fishermen’s colony in Cuffe Parade said Shekhar didn’t do anything to address serious concerns of the fisher-folk. “Our jetties continue to be filthy and there are no facilities for cold storage of fish. All that she has done is donate funds to repair roads in our colonies. She will face a tough fight to be re-elected this year,” he said.
Vinod, however, said three term anti-incumbency would not affect his mother and that her work would speak for itself.
“She has served three terms and that will hold her in good stead. People will vote for her on the basis of her clean image,” Vinod said.
Both mother and son have begun a low-key campaign, interacting with voters with a small entourage. “During elections, we relax. We don’t need to rush to voters like others have been doing right now as we work through the five years,” he said.
CPRA’s Kanwar offers an illustration to point out Shekhar’s continued silence. “During the 2004 Assembly elections, we invited all candidates to meet us and speak for a few minutes. When her chance came, she said Vinod would speak on her behalf. When we invited her in 2009, she did not attend, knowing that we would ask her to speak once again,” Kanwar said.
While dismissing the allegations, Vinod said he was only part of a larger team. “Work cannot be done by one individual. I am of course a part of her team. But we have a lot of activists as part of our team,” he said.