In The battle for the Ulhasnagar Assembly seat in Maharashtra, family ties have prevailed over party affiliations.
The NCP has fielded sitting MLA Jyoti Kalani, who is the wife of former MLA Pappu Kalani, currently serving life imprisonment in a murder case. Among those canvassing for Jyoti is her daughter-in-law Pancham, the BJP mayor of Ulhasnagar Municipal Corporation (UMC).
The BJP has fielded Kumar Ailani, a political rival of four-time MLA Pappu Kalani.
Jyoti is confident of victory and says she, her son Omie and daughter-in-law Pancham are working as a family to ensure her win.
Pancham, the third in the politically influential family to hold the Ulhasnagar mayor’s post, is unapologetic about seeking votes for the NCP. “We were promised a ticket from Ulhasnagar two hours before the BJP announced its candidate. We had a meeting with CM sir on September 20 and he told my husband that they cannot give a ticket to the sitting MLA so they will give it to me since I am already a BJP corporator and mayor. Omie agreed because it would still be in the family. When we did not get the ticket, we felt cheated.”
She said that when she was being considered as the BJP candidate, Jyoti had resigned from NCP. “It is now my duty to stand by her. We don’t look at the party. We work as a family…we can’t just leave our seat and sit at home,” said Pancham. She is aware of the consequences. “I have been treated like an outsider and I am being threatened with show cause notices. If necessary, I will resign from the party”
On a warm Wednesday afternoon, Jyoti is meeting a group of Sindhi businessmen and lawyers. They listen intently before one of them assures, “Don’t worry. We will support you.”
Ulhasnagar has flourished as a town of Sindhi migrants who moved to the town in Thane district after Partition.
According to information available with the UMC, Ulhasnagar, originally known as Kalyan Military transit camp, was especially set up to accommodate soldiers and others during World War II. The camp was deserted at the end of the war and came to be inhabited by Partition victims, mostly Sindhis, who moved into the town for a fresh start.
The constituency has about 2.30 lakh registered voters, with Sindhis and Marathis as the major groups.
In 2014, Jyoti defeated Ailani, a former MLA, by a slim margin of 1,863 votes.
“The BJP’s issues like (dilution of) Section 370 in Kashmir don’t resonate with voters here. They are worried about the economic slowdown and their suffering businesses and rising costs,” says Jyoti.
Thane BJP in-charge Ravindra Chavan said, “We have already taken action against them (Pancham). We have issued them a notice. She may be campaigning because her mother-in-law is contesting the election but this is contrary to the party interest. We will take action as per the rules.”
“We did not know that they would do something like this. They had sought a BJP ticket. There were seven-eight aspirants. Out of them, Kumar Ailani was given the ticket. Only one candidate could have been chosen and the parliamentary board chose Ailani. The BJP, Shiv Sena and RPI are doing their best to ensure that Ailani wins. We are confident.”