Aarey tree felling may hold sway as Bandra West readies for 2-way contesthttps://indianexpress.com/elections/aarey-tree-felling-may-hold-sway-as-bandra-west-readies-for-2-way-contest-6065250/

Aarey tree felling may hold sway as Bandra West readies for 2-way contest

While BJP’s Ashish Shelar has been taking out massive rallies in the area and hoping for a clean sweep for the BJP, Congress’ Asif Zakaria is focussed more on the “look-at-your-candidate” mantra and is hopeful that his work as a corporator will hold him in good stead and buck the trend.

Aarey tree felling may hold sway as Bandra West readies for 2-way contest
Ashish Shelar (left) and Asif Zakaria

Bandra (west) constituency, known for its several Advanced Locality Management groups and “socially-concerned” citizenry, is ready for a two-way battle between BJP’s Ashish Shelar and Congress’ Asif Zakaria, who are not very dissimilar — both are known for their work with ALM groups, are popular across communities and well known faces in Bandra. However, it is the Aarey tree felling issue that may have an impact on their fate here, local residents say.

While Shelar has been taking out massive rallies in the area and hoping for a clean sweep for the BJP, Zakaria is focussed more on the “look-at-your-candidate” mantra and is hopeful that his work as a corporator will hold him in good stead and buck the trend.

Shelar, who defeated Baba Siddiqui of the Congress by over 25,000 votes in the 2014 state polls, said he is confident of “having done enough” to win another term.

As his roadshow wound through the middle-class localities of Shastri Nagar and Daulat Nagar in Santacruz West on Wednesday evening, Shelar said that constituents recalled him for accomplishing small works, like fixing previously unusable playgrounds among other.

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“I have completed the small projects in my constituency in these five years and initiated many larger ones. The plan is to finish them in the next five years,” Shelar said.

Local BJP workers also point out that in the run-up to the election, Shelar has reached out to religious, educational and cultural institutions. “We had made a list of 20 or so important institutions, like the Ramakrishna Mission and National College, and got customised ‘My Stamps’ made for them free of cost. Now, they send official communication using stamps that bear images of their buildings,” a local party worker said.

The Congress, on the other hand, had started off with a disadvantage as their candidate, Zakaria, was announced just days before tickets were distributed.

“Shelar had begun planning his campaign by then. Zakaria had to hit the ground running,” a Congress party worker said, requesting anonymity.

Aware of the BJP sweep across the country, Zakaria is relying on “look at the candidate”.

“See, an Assembly election is more about what your candidate can do for you, and whether he is accessible when you need him. That is what people look for in the state elections. As a three-term corporator, my work is well known among the community,” Zakaria said.

“I am aware about the grassroot issues and would want a greater people participation in civic issues,” he added.

Aware of the uphill task he is facing, Zakaria said, “I have heard massive rallies were taken out by Shelar in the constituency. However, there is no point of huge crowds if they are not really aware about the issues. I have smaller rallies, but every person in the rally is aware and informed. We are going door-to-door and connecting with people on a personal level,” he said.

Another setback for Zakaria is that Baba Siddiqui, the former MLA from the area, is now caught up with the candidature of son Zeeshan, who is fighting from Bandra (east). “He has good network in the area. While he is present, he is more focused on his son’s candidature.”

However, Zakaria is hopeful that felling of trees at Aarey Colony may dissuade several “socially conscious” people of the area to not vote for the BJP. A party worker, however, concedes that the Congress had not taken up the Aarey issues with the fervour they should have.

“Had they taken up the issue more aggressively, it would have helped us in Bandra,” a party worker said.

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Anil Joseph, chairman of Perry Road Residents’ Association in Bandra, said, “See in 2014, Shelar was voted in as people in the area were tired of Baba Siddiqui as there was no action on illegalities in the area. While Shelar did some good work during his term, especially clearing of illegal shops on Linking Road and Hill Road, he will be carrying the baggage of the recent tree felling at Aarey, especially since the Khar-Bandra area is the hotbed of activism.”