Last year, Gopal Shetty, the sitting MP from Mumbai North constituency, had stoked a controversy after he referred to Christians as “foreigners”.
Ahead of the Lok Sabha polls in the city on April 29, the Christian community in the constituency, however, said they have moved on from Shetty’s “foreigners” remark and expected him to reach out to them. For the nearly 56,000 Christian voters in the constituency, the general election is about development of the community, local issues and moving beyond religious and caste divide.
Shetty, in 2018, had reportedly said that while Hindus and Muslims fought together for Independence, Christians, who he described as “angrez” (British), didn’t participate in India’s freedom struggle, angering the community.
Moving on from that episode, the community, in their charter of demands, wants all candidates to address their concerns on burial grounds, freedom of speech and practising their religion. “We are a peace-loving community and the Bombay Catholic Sabha is apolitical. We were hurt by his comments, but now we want to know what are the candidates’ plan for the development of the area and the community, among others. Not just Shetty, we are meeting all the candidates and submitting the charter of demands,” Lawrence Fernandes, vice president, Bombay Catholic Sabha, said.
Coming together under the banner Citizens for Good Governance, the Bombay Catholic Sabha’s charter of demands is divided into 10 categories – economy, minorities, environment, RTI Act, electoral reforms, education, health, judicial reforms and women’s empowerment.
Echoing similar thoughts, Ramsey Rebello, sarpanch, Poisar Gaothan, said, “What Shetty said last year was wrong and derogatory. But now, we would like to hear from him about his plans for the area.” A 17-point charter covering maintenance of Gaothans, cremation grounds and special tour subsidies for Christians, among others, was submitted by the Mumbai Gaothan panchayat.
Dolphy D’souza, former Bombay Catholic Sabha president who is from Malad’s Orlem area, said, “The comment made by him (Shetty) was mischievous and on purpose. He never apologised for it. The comments will surely weigh on community members’ minds when they vote next week.”
The community is largely represented from Orlem and Malvani areas. The region falls in the Malad Assembly segment of Mumbai North constituency, where the main contest is between Congress’ actor turned politician Urmila Matondkar and Shetty. Malad is also the only Assembly constituency out of the six in Mumbai North, where the Congress secured a win in the 2014 Assembly elections. There are nearly 16 lakh voters in the constituency.
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