Three-Term Shiv Sena corporator Rahul Shewale (41) is contesting Lok Sabha elections for the first time in the Mumbai south central constituency, where issues such as redevelopment of old crumbling buildings, slum sprawls, traffic and pollution are the most imminent. Of the 15 lakh-odd voters in this constituency, about four lakhs are Muslims and roughly 3.5 lakhs are Dalits. While the Shiv Sena rarely flashes the caste card in the elections while picking its candidates, the party is said to have considered Shewale’s Dalit background before fielding him against Congress’ Eknath Gaikwad, who had in 2004 defeated Sena’s Manohar Joshi and in 2009, Suresh Gambhir, to become an MP.
What is your strongest quality as a Lok Sabha election candidate?
My strongest point is that I have been a corporator and have worked as a standing committee chairman for four years. I have administrative and political experience. I am aware of the local issues of this constituency and understand exactly where intervention of the union government is required to solve issues of people. For instance, in the Machimar Colony area in Mahim, the biggest issue on the minds of people is redevelopment. It has been stuck for many years and falls under the Coastal Regulation Zone (CRZ) with restrictions on development. I can take this up at the union government level to push for environment clearances for development and soften environment norms so as to balance environment and development. BMC is in the process of drafting a new development plan. There are many issues that need to be taken up at the central level to give Mumbai the look of an international mega city. I can canvass on these lines at the parliament level. Moreover, me being a civil engineer by qualification is also a major advantage as I can accurately answer queries related to infrastructure and development.
How would you assess your opponents?
There is a strong anti-incumbency sentiment in this constituency. The Congress candidate Eknath Gaikwad has been an MP from this constituency for two terms now, but has not done anything for people. He has not even met people in his constituency after elections. With regards to the candidate of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), he is contesting for the first time. He does not understand local issues. The MNS in this constituency is campaigning around education. He should ideally stand for senate elections, not parliamentary elections. The Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has not presence at all in this constituency. People are not even aware that there is an AAP candidate here. Also, they have seen the experience in Delhi and are wary of voting for AAP now.
According to data collected by an NGO, Congress’ Eknath Gaikwad had the highest attendance in the 15th Lok Sabha among all the Mumbai MPs and had also asked the maximum number of questions. Do you think that will work positively for him?
He did ask more than a thousand questions, but unfortunately they were not related to the issues of the people in his constituency. And when it comes to attendance, it means nothing if you are just going and attending sessions. There should be results seen in your constituency. The results were zero.
In the previous Lok Sabha elections, the MNS had eaten into the Shiv Sena’s votes and as a result the Congress candidate had won the seat from this constituency. Even in the BMC elections, MNS won all wards in Dadar and Mahim. Do you fear that happening again?
It is true that we had lost some votes to the MNS during the previous Lok Sabha elections and they had won in the Dadar-Mahim area in the BMC elections too. However, people have seen now that the corporators have not performed well. People are dejected with them and so Sena has an advantage. We are also telling people in Dadar to not vote for the MNS this time as every vote cast for the MNS will ultimately help the Congress. We are campaigning that if they want to see Narendra Modi as the prime minister, people should vote for the Shiv Sena and not MNS.
What are the major issues you are raising in your election campaign in different parts of the constituency?
In Dharavi, the major issue is redevelopment. People are demanding houses of 400 sq ft carpet area. We are promising to make changes in the Dharavi redevelopment plan to give them that. In Chembur, it is widely known that it is the most polluted area and is having an impact on people’s health. I plan to install an air purification plant there with the Union government’s help. Similarly, the redevelopment of all gaothans and koliwadas is stuck mainly because of CRZ rules, so I will try to get them relaxed. I will push for quick redevelopment of dilapidated and cessed buildings in my constituency.
There are many central government industries in this constituency such as Indian Oil, BPCL, RCF and so on. We can try to work out a scheme to provide jobs to the unemployed youth here in these industries.
There is a substantial number of Muslims in the Mumbai south central constituency. What are you doing to get their support?
The Muslim population is also supporting us this time as they are upset with the Congress. We have done a lot of work for the community through the municipal corporation. We are running several Urdu BMC schools when, technically, teaching Urdu is not a mandatory function of the BMC. Also, we are trying to legalise all mosques across the city by marking them on the new development plan that is being drafted.