With more than six lakh Marathi voters, the South Mumbai Lok Sabha constituency will likely be one of the most watched seats as Shiv Sena’s sitting MP Arvind Sawant takes on Mumbai Congress president Milind Deora. Apart from Marathi voters, both parties are trying to court the Muslim community, which comprises approximately 3.4 lakh voters.
The constituency has more than 15.30 lakh voters in six assembly constituencies. While Worli and Seweri have the highest number of Marathi voters, Byculla and Mumbadevi have a large number of Muslims. Of the six assembly seats, two (Worli and Seweri) are with Shiv Sena, another two (Malabar Hill and Colaba) with BJP, one (Mumbadevi) with Congress and Byculla seat is with AIMIM.
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Data collated by political parties suggests that after the Marathi population, Muslims are the second largest voter group with more than 3.40 members, the Jain and Gujarati communities number at least 2.20 lakh and north Indians approximately 1.95 lakh voters in the South Mumbai constituency.
In 2014, Sawant was elected to represent the constituency in the Parliament with a margin of 1.25 lakh votes against two-time former MP Milind Deora. The constituency, which has a mix of middle class and upscale, wealthy residents, had then recorded an unprecedented voter turnout of 53 per cent.
This time, with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) out of the race, both Sena and BJP are trying to attract Marathi voters. In 2014, MNS’s Bala Nandgaonkar had secured more than 84,000 votes, mostly Marathi ones.
While Deora, who is running a door-to-door campaign in Marathi majority areas, has invited Urmila Matondkar for his campaign in Girgaon, which is a Marathi-dominant area, for Sawant, Yuva Sena chief Aaditya Thackeray and, recently, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had campaigned to woo the Marathi community. Matondkar is contesting from the Mumbai North seat against BJP MP Gopal Shetty.
Deora also got a push after MNS chief Raj Thackeray held a rally in Kalachowki where, for the first time, he urged residents not to vote for the Sena in a bid to defeat BJP. “In this area, Marathis have always chosen Sena. And those who had voted for MNS in past will go for Sena as these localities have some of the oldest Sena cadre, whose loyalty is with late Sena chief Balasaheb Thackeray,” said a Sena party worker.
Party workers from Congress feel BJP is finding few takers among Muslims, so they are eyeing Byculla and Mumbadevi, which have Muslim majority population. “In the last elections, even Muslims had voted for the BJP as there was anti-incumbency and anger against the Congress. But various policies of BJP governments, like triple talaq and rising hate against minorities, could help Congress to lead in these areas,” alleged a party worker from the Congress.
However, workers feel Bahujan Vanchit Aghadi (BVA) candidate Anil Kumar, supported by AIMIM, could dent Congress’s Muslim votebank.
Though voters are divided on “nationalism” and “national security” topics, redevelopment of old chawls and buildings is a big issue in this constituency. BDD chawls spread over 93 acres, which have at least 190 buildings with more than 16,000 tenants and over 2,300 acres of Mumbai Port Trust land (from Colaba to Wadala on eastern coast of city), with several residential, non-residential and industrial establishments, are at the centre of poll issues.
South Mumbai is the oldest part of the city with many century-old heritage and iconic structures, as well as residential and non-residential settlements that are eyeing redevelopment. Residents in areas like Bhuleshwar, Kalbadevi, Bhendi Bazar and Abhudya Nagar aspire for bigger homes and better living facilities under redevelopment.
Proposed redevelopment plans of BDD chawls in Worli, Naigaon, N M Joshi Marg and Seweri are also poll issues. Another issue is the Mumbai Port Trust land from Colaba to Wadala. The Trust authority’s proposed control redevelopment policy, under which tenants are to be evicted, has irked lakhs of residents. Both Deora and Sawant have promised to resolve the issue if elected.
But residents remain upset that their old and dilapidated buildings have not been redeveloped for years, while the Mill land was rapidly developed as it has commercial value.
“Once known for its textile mills, located in areas like Parel, Lalbaug and Worli, a majority of mill workers are yet to get houses promised by previous and past governments under Mill Land development policy. Mill lands were developed rapidly to get commercial benefits but when it comes to old chawls and buildings, nothing has changed…” said Santosh Sharma, a resident of Bhuleshwar.
The city goes to vote on April 29.
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