It is 5 pm on Thursday as a black Range Rover car finds its way into Ramabai Nagar slum in Ghatkopar (east) and halts near a statue of Babasaheb Ambedkar. Everyone stops to see as BJP’s candidate for the constituency, Parag Shah, a realtor-builder and the richest in the election fray from Maharashtra, steps out of the plush car.
As soon as he emerges, workers of the BJP, ally Shiv Sena and Republican Party of India (A) raise a chant: “Parag bhai aage bado, hum tumhare saath hai.” (Go ahead Parag, we are with you).
A sitting corporator from ward number 132 in Ghatkopar (east), Shah replaced Prakash Mehta — the incumbent state Cabinet minister for housing department and MLA from Ghatkopar (east) — as the alliance candidate for the October 21 Assembly elections.
On October 4, when Shah went to visit Mehta before submitting his affidavit, his Mercedes car was vandalised, allegedly by Mehta’s miffed supporters.
“I went to seek blessing from the minister (Mehta), but I was showered with stones instead. Still I went to his residence to meet him, but he did not come out of his room. After his wife asked me to come back in the evening, I left his house and went to file my nomination,” he said.
Asked if Mehta was supporting his campaign, Shah is cryptic. “Andar se pata nahi, par kar raha hai (Can’t say if he supporting me wholeheartedly, but outwardly he is).”
Shah said it may have been for a text message, which he had sent to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis a year ago, that he got the ticket. The text message, he said, was simple: “Seva ka mouka do” (give me a chance to serve). “I told him that I wanted to be a part of his team. I also mentioned that it does not necessarily mean that I need a position. He remembered and was granted a ticket this time,” Shah said at a recently held election meeting.
Claiming that he was yet to shortlist issues that people from his constituency were facing, he said, “They (the people) should know that an authentic person has come to work for the country. So far, I haven’t made any promise to anyone and I won’t in the coming weeks.”
In his nomination affidavit, the BJP candidate declared a combined asset of Rs 500.62 crore. His movable assets along with those of his wife and Hindu undivided family (HUF) are worth Rs 422.6 crore, while his immovable assets, including properties in Valkas, Ghatkopar, Chembur and in Gujarat, account for Rs 78.01 crore, as per the affidavit. He also owns a Skoda Rapid and a Ferrari California, worth Rs 8.98 lakh and Rs 2.47 crore respectively. He has declared an income of Rs 33.95 crore for 2018-19.
Mumbai BJP president Mangal Prabhat Lodha, who enjoyed the richest candidate tag so far, slipped to the second spot after Shah’s entry into the polls.
According to the affidavit, Shah owns three floors at a high-rise in Chembur, where he stays with his wife, son and daughter. He has recently set up a pandal at an open space at Bhanushaliwadi in Ghatkopar (east) which he calls is his election office.
Aware of being called “the richest candidate in the city” the 50-year-old said, “It may be new for other people, but I know what I have. My money has so far only benefited the people in my household. But it was given to me by the society, and I feel it is my duty to give it back to them or rather share it with them.”
Shah said he has officially resigned from his business enterprises, which were being run by his team. “I don’t interfere there now. I am only focusing on working for the people.”
In 2017 BMC election, Shah was elected as a corporator from ward number 132. Asked about his “poor track-record” as a corporator — poor attendance and few questions raised — according to NGO Praja Foundation’s Corporator Report Card for 2019, he said, “One need not go to the House and attend meetings regularly. You can go and check with the people from my ward to how much I have worked.”
Santosh C Pandey, one of Shah’s aides, said, “He (Shah) may not go out in the field and solve people’s problem, but he has around 70 people, including traffic wardens, representing him and working for the people in his ward. There is a WhatsApp group in which citizens post their problems (on civic issues) following which his representatives resolves those issues. There is a team supervisors who get a salary of over Rs 1 lakh.”
On Thursday, Shah’s made multiple stops during his two-and-a-half-hour long rally, to oblige party workers and supporters with selfies, seek blessings from the elderly and garlands from supporters. Mukta Jala, a resident of Panchesheel chawl in Ramabai Nagar, said, “I will definitely vote for the BJP. Despite being so wealthy, he stopped his rally to seek our blessings.”
Another resident, owner of a meat shop in the area, said, “I am not bothered about whoever comes to power. This is the only time of the year that they come asking for votes, while they simply vanish for the rest of the year.”