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The battle for south Mumbai

The battle for south Mumbai
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First Published: Fri, Apr 03 2009. 02 29 AM IST

Southside story: (left) A jubilant Deora after his 2004 win over BJP’s Jaywantiben Mehta; and Sanyal is a citizen who wants to make a difference. Photographs by: AFP and Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Southside story: (left) A jubilant Deora after his 2004 win over BJP’s Jaywantiben Mehta; and Sanyal is a citizen who wants to make a difference. Photographs by: AFP and Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Updated: Fri, Apr 03 2009. 08 33 PM IST
This general election, citizens in glitzy Malabar Hill and Cuffe Parade will vote for the same bunch of candidates as voters in Parel, Worli, Sewri and Byculla. Call it the democratization of a constituency or the assassination of its character—either way, the battle for South Mumbai is one that’s worth tracking.
Thanks to delimitation, South Mumbai now has nearly 1.7 million voters, or more than double the number of voters it had on its rolls in the 2004 general election. In fact, it’s gone from being one of India’s smallest constituencies to being among its largest (that honour goes to Unnao in Uttar Pradesh with 1.9 million voters). What a big responsibility for South Mumbai residents, who have traditionally been among the most reluctant of Indian voters. The last time, this constituency registered only 274,358 valid votes.
Yet, so much has changed in South Mumbai since the last general election.
Southside story: (left) A jubilant Deora after his 2004 win over BJP’s Jaywantiben Mehta; and Sanyal is a citizen who wants to make a difference. Photographs by: AFP and Abhijit Bhatlekar / Mint
Nobody’s sure, for example, how important the anti-incumbency factor will be among angry citizens who have gone from somnolent to hyperactive since the horrific terrorist attack in November. Whose vote bank will the two New Political Indians contesting here—banker Meera Sanyal, an independent candidate, and ophthalmic surgeon Mona Patel Shah of the Professionals Party of India—cannibalize? Will South Mumbai’s traditional Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters still vote for the party now that it has nominated a Shiv Sena candidate for this constituency? Most important, what will be the impact of delimitation? Does it really matter whom the high-rises vote for when the bhakarwadi bastions are now picking from the same set of candidates? Will the voice of the English-medium educated Indian even register?
Banker Meera Sanyal went through the same schools as me— Convent of Jesus and Mary (Fort), followed by two years at Cathedral and John Connon—before she graduated from Sydenham College, also located near the southern tip of India’s tax-paying nucleus.
She’s among the growing breed of New Political Indians—hardworking, upright, fed up with the system and, after 26 November, more than ready to do their bit.
Sanyal doesn’t know how to play the caste card; she’s counting on the alumni card.
Political veterans may shrug her off as just another irrelevant entrant in India’s biggest mela, but some South Mumbaikars, still angry after last year’s attack on their city (in which Sanyal lost friend and mentor Ashok Kapur), are seriously thinking of backing this brave independent who’s actually gone out, invested Rs25 lakh of her money and done what all of them secretly wish they had the guts to do.
So, should we vote for Sanyal then? Five years ago, things were so much simpler.
Back then, it was a Boston vs Bhuleshwar fight. Congress newbie Milind Deora, then 27 and a graduate of Boston University (BU), was pitted against BJP veteran Jaywantiben Mehta, 65, who had been counting on support from the city’s trading hothouses such as Bhuleshwar. There were five other candidates, but nobody really cared—four of them polled less than 2,000 votes each and the fifth didn’t make it past 4,000.
In 2004, Boston beat Bhuleshwar by 10,246 votes—no prizes for guessing whom I voted for.
This time—in addition to the banker, ophthalmic surgeon and the now experienced BU graduate—probable South Mumbai candidates include a criminal (Arun Gawli has all of Chinchpokli behind him), two sons of the soil (Shiv Sena’s Mohan Rawale will have to reckon with former Shiv Sainik Bala Nandgaonkar, who has now defected to Raj Thackeray’s party) and Mayawati-backed dock transporter Haji Mohammed Shaikh Ali.
Sitting MP Deora believes he’s still the best candidate for the job. “People have seen the work I’ve done, my accessibility in the last five years,” he told me over the phone. As far as young politicians go, Deora’s better than most. For one, he’s consistently stood for inclusive politics, a biggie in my books. “I’m all for cleansing the system, for focusing the agenda on development, not on trivial issues,” he says.
There’s a list of his achievements on his website and Facebook page. Among other things, he helped push through the crucial Right to Information Act, opposed the sale of the city’s historic Crawford Market and managed to get Union government funds to fix Mumbai’s network of storm-water drains. 
His small army of student and professional volunteers are tapping the same people that Sanyal is counting on. A network of 120 student volunteers is organizing tea parties for potential voters at their homes, and going door-to-door (on a good day 46 volunteers tick off around 23 high-rises in Cuffe Parade). Their target? The educated, progressive residents of around 80,000 homes. Add that to the traditional Congress supporters in the constituency, and Deora might just breast the tape again.
Whichever way it goes, it’s a battle worth tracking.
Write to lounge@livemint.com
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First Published: Fri, Apr 03 2009. 02 29 AM IST