“I AM not fighting to win. Now my focus is on consolidating the traditional Congress voter under the BJP fold in my Assembly,” says advocate Parag Alavani, the BJP contestant from Vile Parle Assembly seat as he campaigns in the Rajendra Nagar area along the Western Express Highway (WEH). Alavani, who won the seat in the 2014 Assembly elections by 30,000 votes when the Shiv Sena and BJP contested separately, is aware that Vile Parle has become among the safer seats for the BJP in the city. That may perhaps be backed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the Lokmanya Seva Sangh (LSS) Ganesh pandal in this constituency during its centenary year last month.
On his Twitter page, Alavani, who has a pinned tweet with photographs of Modi praying at the LSS with him in the background, says, “It was a moment of a lifetime. Every party worker in my Assembly felt honoured that the PM chose us.”
The Vile Parle constituency has over a lakh Marathi voters and nearly 60,000 Gujarati voters from a total of nearly 2.5 lakh voters. Since 2009, after delimitation, the Assembly seat covers Vile Parle (East) and is primarily divided into two major chunks. On the eastern side of the WEH are the slums on the airport-owned land abutting the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport where Alavani is currently campaigning.
On the other side of the highway, is the middle, upper middle class Marathi population, seen as the vanguard of Marathi culture, language and literature, with several iconic Marathi cultural institutions like the LSS Tilak Mandir, Dinanath Mangeshkar Natyagriha located in the area leading to comparisons with Pune as a Marathi cultural hub. “We, however, do not like the Pune comparison. Vile Parle has its own identity as a cultural hub. The Lokmanya Tilak mandal where Modi came also had other high profile visitors like Mahatma Gandhi in the past,” the 52-year-old says.
“I have been organising the Parle Mahotsav festival since the past 20 years. This is how I also get in touch with the next generation,” Alavani says.
As per its website, Parle Mahotsav has events like dance competitions, apart from handwriting, running, body building and yoga. The fact that three generations of the Alavanis have resided in the same area also comes in handy with the networks he has formed with the community. “I move around freely in the area. I had written to the police commissioner stating that I did not need a gun-totting security person with me all the time as I did not have security issues. People feel free to approach me,” he adds.
Today as Alavani is campaigning at Rajendra Prasad Nagar, an elderly woman tells him, “Abhi building mein rehna hain. (I want to stay in a building now).” Alavani, who said he has been fighting for the rehabilitation of nearly 80,000 families of slum dwellers on airport land that come under his constituency, tells the woman, “We are almost there. Very soon we will move there. You don’t worry.”
Apart from this, another issue is the redevelopment of the around 6,000 buildings that fall in the funnel zone of the airport. A funnel zone is an imaginary flight path on either side of the runway due to which the redevelopment of old buildings falling in this area around Vile Parle, Santacruz, Ghatkopar and Kurla has been stalled. “See I was the one who made this into an issue and raised it with BMC officials. The BMC has formed a committee to look into the issue and I am hopeful of a positive development post Diwali,” Alavani said. Alavani’s wife Jyoti is a two-time corporator.
Alavani’s resemblance with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has landed him in comical situations. “Once I had gone to Mantralaya and as I was coming out of the Law and Judiciary department, around 8-10 journalists had assembled outside and started laughing. When I enquired with them, they told me the personal assistant of a bureaucrat in that department had mistaken him for Thackeray and soon the news had spread that the Sena chief was there,” Alavani says.
Interestingly, Alavani had been charged with the murder of Owen D’Souza, a law student whose murder in1989 had led to student elections being banned in Maharashtra. “He was an NSUI — youth wing of Congress — member while I was linked to ABVP, the BJP youth wing. After some Congress leaders reached the police station, the police charged me with murder. However, I was acquitted in 2002. I had spent nearly eight days behind bars in the false case,” says Alavani.
Talk to him about the rival Congress candidate, former corpotator Jayanti Siroya, he says, “See I do not want to comment about anyone. I am aware that not all the seats I win is on my own. A lot of people also vote for the party. So everyone is trying their best.”
Siroya, however, has a contrary take. “See people know me in the area. The Gujaratis feel they want one of their own to win and hence they will vote for me.” When asked about the Modi factor, he countered, “See this is not a national election. This election is about who the people know personally.”
Former MLA Krishna Hegde, who had won the same seat on a Congress ticket in 2009 but has since moved to the BJP, said, “It is going to be a walkover for the BJP on this seat. I have been working in the area and would be using my networks to ensure that Alavani wins the seat.”