With her hand raised in the air to emphasise on the party’s official symbol, Priya Dutt urged voters to promise to pass on her message on to least five people.
“Either talk to five persons or forward this message to at least five people online,” Dutt, Congress’s candidate from Mumbai North Central constituency, said. On Friday, she met voters at Prabhat Colony in Santacruz (east) — mostly drawn from the North Indian community — and then at Nalanda and Panchsheel societies, a Dalit colony in the area.
Like always, she also attacked the Narendra Modi government over Goods and Services Tax, demonetisation and its failure to fulfil the Rs 15 lakh in every bank account promise.
But what is actually giving her BJP rival and sitting MP Poonam Mahajan a headache, is the large Muslim population in the constituency, which could turn the tables this time.
According to data collected by the BJP, of the 16.45 lakh registered voters in the constituency, 4.14 lakh (25 per cent) belong to the Muslim community, second only to the Marathi voters that form 34 per cent (5.59 lakh) of the total electorate here. Besides, there are 77,000 (five per cent) Christian voters, 2.73 lakh (17 per cent) north Indian voters, 1.80 lakh (11 per cent) Gujarati and Rajasthani voters, followed by 1.05 lakh (6 per cent) south Indian voters.
It was the same demography in 2014 when Mahajan had defeated Dutt by nearly 1.8 lakh votes. But Mahajan’s campaign managers say communities do not vote as blocks.
“I think it is erroneous to think that the Muslims or any community will vote as a block. This (Mumbai North Central) has traditionally been a Congress seat and for the first time the BJP got a chance here. During her term, Mahajan got 1,463 toilets blocks built that has benefited especially women and children. The voter has his/her own mind and will vote for the work she has done, rather than on religious lines,” a BJP functionary, who is a part of Mahajan’s team, said.
However, the party is likely to call senior BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi to campaign in Muslim dominated areas in the constituency.
Apart from Kurla, Assembly segments like Chandivali and Bandra (east and west) also have a large number of Muslim voters.
Noorzehra Naz, the co-founder of Bharatiya Muslim Mahila Andolan (BMMA) that works for the rights of the Muslim women and operates out of Bandra, said: “There is a sense of insecurity among Muslim women with things, like lynching, which were reported across the country over the past five years. But then again, it is under this government that the triple talaq ordinance was passed, which was a good thing. However, when questions are raised about the very survival of a community, it becomes the main issue you think about while voting.”
Dutt believes her defeat in 2014 was due to the ‘Modi wave’, and that this time there is no such wave.
“In 2014, there was anger against the Congress that I could feel even during campaigning. Some of them did not even know who the BJP nominee was, but wanted to vote for Modi. This time around, however, when I am campaigning, I can feel that there is anger against the BJP government for the promises they have not kept. There is no wave this time around,” Dutt said.
Apart from Dutt and Mahajan, 18 other contestants are in the fray from the seat, including Sneha Kale, a transgender person, and Dr A R Anjaria, an “anti-terror crusader” who is fighting on the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) ticket. In fact, there are fears in the Dutt camp that the VBA candidate may take away a share of the Muslim and Dalit voters from the Congress.
Claiming that the Congress should have nominated a Muslim from the area, if it was so concerned about the community, Anjaria told The Indian Express: “Look at how few Muslims the Congress party has nominated across the country. We need more Muslims in the parliament to raise the issues of the community. Hence, I decided to contest elections this time around.”
Rohit Tambe, a member of the Dalit community, said, “I will be voting for the VBA even if it does not win. I would want to encourage a party linked to the community so that at some point we have representation in the parliament and our issues are raises, something which is not happening currently.”
Kale, who identifies herself as a transgender person, and is fighting as an independent said, “While I may not have the money power, I am fighting to get the rights of disadvantaged groups like the kinnar community, devdasis and maids. I am a social worker and campaign in the constituency everyday.”