On March 26, a day after the Congress announced his candidature from the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha constituency, Sanjay Nirupam’s first move was to meet north Indian and Muslim voters in Dindoshi. A sizeable presence of north Indians and non-Marathi speaking people in the constituency, party sources said, could tip the scales in favour of Nirupam — who is from Bihar.
Not surprisingly then, the Shiv Sena’s exclusive cell for “Uttar-Bhartiya” voters is also working day and night to chalk out campaigns, rallies and group meetings in these areas. “Since he (Nirupam) is from Bihar himself, he may attract voters from the Hindi-speaking belt,” Sena’s candidate from the seat and sitting MP Gajanan Kirtikar told The Indian Express. Kirtikar, however, said his party was undertaking its own reach out programmes to attract north Indian voters.
“We have arranged more rallies in regions dominated by North Indians,” a Sena worker, not wishing to be named, said.
Of the total 17 lakh population in the Mumbai North West constituency, more than 3.62 lakh residents are north Indians. Besides, the constituency is home to 6.06 lakh Maharashtrians, 3.34 lakh Muslims, 1.9 lakh Gujaratis and Rajasthanis, 1.2 lakh south Indians and 85,000 from other communities.
While the Marathi and Gujarati votes are expected to come in the Sena’s kitty, Congressmen expect Muslims and south Indians in the constituency to vote for Nirupam. What remains are the north Indians concentrated in Dindoshi, Jogeshwari East, Versova and Goregaon, who, both the parties are trying hard to woo. These votes, experts say, however, are expected to split.
Off Jogeshwari-Vikhroli link road, at Durga Nagar slum —home to over 3,000 north Indians — Kanpur native Neeraj Saini said, “What we need here is proper water supply and good roads. Look how the Metro work has led to traffic jams. But Kirtikarji has not come even once to hold any public hearing here. That has disappointed many,” he said.
Many others who claim to have voted for Kirtikar in 2014 (Lok Sabha polls), said they were now “disillusioned by his consistent absence” from the constituency. The area, they said, has been waiting for a redevelopment project to take off since years.
“The Modi wave is not as strong as before,” Vineet Singh, a Congress worker said. “North Indians will vote for a north Indian candidate.”
A few metres away, seated on a bench at a local barber’s shop, another resident Dina Nath Mishra claimed that Uttar Pradesh’s politics will also wield a lot of influence on voters here. “Even (Chief Minister) Yogi Adityananth’s government has not done much for UP. Power cuts are common there,” he said. Barber Srinath Sharma also said that people here would trust a North Indian representative more that a Shiv Sainik.
Nirupam, sources said, is also hoping to garner the votes of Thakurs, Yadavs and Brahmins – the communities form a majority among the north Indians settled in Mumbai.
Sena volunteer, Radheram Singh, a Mirzapur native who runs a grocery store in Durga Nagar, however, pointed out that all the six Assembly seats in constituency were equally represented by the BJP and Sena – 36 of the total 40 corporation seats were won by the Sena in Mumbai North West.
“The alliance has a stronghold here. A north Indian candidate’s entry will not create much difference,” Singh said.
Sena leaders claimed that the north Indian residents here would vote for Kirtikar if local corporators urge them to.
“People want to see Modi at the Centre,” said Kiran Singh, who had migrated to Mumbai from Jaunpur 30 years ago. A housewife, Singh said, Modi has managed to garner a positive image.However, as Mumbai votes on April 29, turnout is expected to decline with several North Indians likely to head back to their native villages for summer holidays.