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India elections 2019: Mumbai playing politics of hope

Anjana Sankar (Reporting from Mumbai)
Filed on April 28, 2019
India elections 2019: Mumbai playing politics of hope
Congress candidate from Mumbai North constituency Urmila Matondkar with Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar at Borivali West in Mumbai on Saturday. - PTI

It seems no one knows this better than its politicians who seek votes for a better tomorrow.

Mumbai is a mystery to many outsiders. The megalopolis still remains violently intimidating yet reassuring. When you are in this choke city, every inch around you is invaded by teeming millions and your space shrinks to a dot.

But for those who open their souls to the maximum city, there is magic in the maze. Its crammed streets, dizzyingly dense suburbs, dilapidated houses that are bursting at the seams, trains swollen with people, its chaotic slums - all will overpower you with a sense of charm and belonging.

Of the handful of times I had been here, the most unforgettable visit was in 2008 when Mumbai was under siege. The terrorist attack that claimed more than 180 lives had exposed the vulnerabilities - as well as strengths - of the financial capital of India. Within days of the brutal attack, Mumbai sprang back to life.

The city lives in its present. Its hopes are for today. Tomorrow is an enigma that Mumbaikars have little time to figure out. It seems no one knows this better than its politicians who seek votes for a better tomorrow.

On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed to Mumbaikars to vote for BJP as only his party can keep Mumbai safe. He praised the city's police force for their untiring work during the 26/11 attack.

The remarks are clearly a fire-fighting exercise after the BJP's Bhopal candidate Pragya Singh Thakur made insulting comments against martyred Mumbai Anti-Terrorism squad chief Hemant Karkare.

But issues of national security don't seem to resonate with people of Mumbai who are struggling with existential issues like housing and daily commute.

"Tell me how you can improve the infrastructure of the city. It is crumbling and no one is doing anything about it. When I cannot find a decent place to live, should I be worrying about national security?" asked Govind Pande, a travel consultant in Worli.

On the last day of campaigning on April 27 before all the six constituencies of Mumbai go to polls on April 29, South Mumbai Congress candidate Milind Deora made final pleas to his voters. Deora, a two-time MP had lost out to incumbent Arvind Sawant in 2014.

The Congress candidate is on a stronger pitch this time ever since industrialist Mukesh Ambani has thrown his weight behind Deora saying he is the right candidate for South Mumbai.

The pressing need in this commercial hub that covers some of the most upscale areas of Mumbai is lack of housing space and cluster development. Deora has made it one of his main campaign issues.

The Marwari and Gujarathi traders in the area are caught up in a fix. Some of them that Khaleej Times spoke to said they want to see Modi come back to power. But they also realise it is not Modi or Rahul Gandhi who is going to help them solve their problems. For many, Deora is a better choice than the incumbent Sawant.

In Mumbai-North central, it is a star-studded battle between Priya Dutt and Poonam Mahajan. In the absence of a Modi wave this time, Mahajan is expected to have a tough battle, according to some BJP workers. But the Sena-BJP alliance, they feel, will ensure the party's victory as Shiv Sena will woo majority of the Marathi voters in the constituency.

In Mumbai North, respondents said Bollywood actress and Congress's fresh face Urmila Matondkar is making an impact with her campaigns. "It is not easy to write her off as a Bollywood star who knows nothing about politics. She seems to be connecting well with people," said Prerna Ghosh, a college student from Malad.

But the biggest damper for BJP, according to many, has been the MNS (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena) chief Raj Thackeray. Though his party has not fielded a single candidate and he himself is not contesting in the Lok Sabha polls, Thackeray is pulling huge crowds to his rallies. Using his powerful oratory, he is tearing into Narendra Modi projecting old video clips of Modi's speeches.

"He is a hard-hitter. People have reservations about his politics. But the crowd is enjoying his jibes at Modi and it is definitely benefitting the Congress-NCP alliance," said a Sena worker.

For all political parties across the spectrum, the biggest challenge is to get Mumbaikars to vote. So far, the city's track record in exercising franchise has not been good. It has always lagged behind the national average by 12 to 14 per cent.

"I know it is my duty to vote. But I feel it is an exercise in futility. Irrespective of which political party comes to power, the city and its problems will remain the same. So why should I waste my precious time to vote?" asked a trader who only gave his first name as Hareesh.

Will Mumbai vote well this time? Khaleej Times got mixed response from the ground with many expressing disillusionment and cynicism. The success of its politicians is to instill hope and they all seem to be doing a good job at that.

anjana@khaleejtimes.com





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