A swing in Marathi and Muslim votes could prove decisive in the Mumbai North Central Lok Sabha constituency, where sitting MP Poonam Mahajan of BJP is squaring off against Congresss Priya Dutt, who had lost in the 2014 election. While Poonam Mahajan, the daughter of BJP leader late Pramod Mahajan, is banking on the work carried out by her in the past five years, Priya Dutt, the daughter of the late Sunil Dutt, says her fight is for “saving” democracy.
As per voter demographics, the constituency is dominated by Marathi-speaking residents, followed by Muslims, north Indians, Gujaratis and Marwaris, Christians and south Indians.
In the 2014 general election, Mahajan had defeated Dutt, the then sitting MP, by a margin of 1.86 lakh votes. Mahajan had polled 4,78,535 votes while Dutt was restricted to 2,91,764 votes. “It remains to be seen if votes of Dalits, Muslims and the middle class, which got divided during the Modi wave in 2014, will be transferred back to the Congress,” a Congress leader said.
The constituency, with around 18 lakh voters, comprises assembly segments of Vile Parle, Chandivali, Kurla, Kalina, Bandra East and Bandra West. According to political observers, a common complaint against Dutt is that she withdrew from the constituency after her 2014 defeat, as a result of which she has no connect with voters and Congress workers. But observers also feel that Dutt can upset Mahajan if she gets the voter arithmetic right in the constituency, which used to be a Congress stronghold. “The Congress is weak in Vile Parle and Bandra (East) segments. In 2014, Mahajan had got a massive lead of over 70,000 votes in the Vile Parle segment. In Bandra (East), Congress lacks a strong local level leader,” an observer said.
Of the six assembly segments in this constituency, the BJP has five MLAs while the Congress only one in former minister Naseem Khan, who represents Chandivali constituency. The number of BJP corporators from the area in the civic body stands at 25. Rehabilitation of slum-dwellers and redevelopment of dilapidated buildings are major issues being discussed during the campaigning. If a Mumbai Congress leader is to be believed, Dutt seems a reluctant contestant who has not yet opened a central election office for campaigning even though the voting day, April 29, is drawing close. He was referring to the announcement made by Dutt in January that she would not contest election due to her growing responsibilities towards her family members. She later made a U-turn and decided to enter the poll fray.
Mahajan told PTI that the BJP has made deep inroads into the constituency, which was once considered a Congress citadel. Referring to the Mumbai civic body polls held in 2017, Mahajan claimed the BJPs vote share from 2014 has increased, leaving the Congress far behind. Mahajan said she had spent her MPLAD fund on resolving housing issues of local residents and for construction of toilets. “A total of 1,428 toilets have been constructed in areas like Bandra, Kurla and Chandivali,” the MP said, adding that she had worked for redevelopment of 20,000 MHADA (Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority) colonies having houses measuring 580sqft.
“Similarly, 80,000 families will be rehabilitated from the Mumbai airport land,” she said.
Mahajan said slum-dwellers occupying the airport land in Kurla and Kalina areas will be relocated elsewhere while those living in Vakola and Vile Parle will be rehabilitated on 65 acres of redeveloped land. Mahajan also said redevelopment of dilapidated buildings located on suburban district collectors land can be done.
Dutt, who had won the 2005 Lok Sabha bypoll from Mumbai North West after her fathers death and 2009 elections from Mumbai North Central, said her fight is for those who believe in secularism and democracy. “Everyone who is secular and believes in democracy has a responsibility to step forward and play an active role in saving it. I stand for the future of all children, including mine,” she said.
Asked to respond to the allegation that she snapped contact with voters and party workers after her 2014 defeat, Dutt said that’s not true. “I have been working for people through Nargis Dutt Foundation,” she said. Asked about her poll strategy, Dutt said she fights an election as a challenge and goes with the flow. “I will soon share my manifesto with the people,” Dutt said, adding that she communicates her stand to the people and leaves the electoral outcome to their discretion.