Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Long Race on the Island City

Elections are coming to the City of Dreams! India's financial capital, Mumbai, heads to the polls in the next phase and this election is set to be one of the most exciting yet. South Mumbai in particular sees a four-cornered, high-pitch campaign. The constituency, which hugely disappointed in 2009 after 26/11 by registering a puny 40% turnout, now has a battle royal at its hands.

Two-time sitting MP Milind Deora enjoys a lot of support on the ground for the good work he has done. Indeed, he is probably the only young leader in the Congress today who does not need to hold on to Rahul Gandhi's hem to gain support from his party - and his image is also that of someone not in the Gandhi inner circle. And yet, he faces significant competition.

For some reason, the BJP gave this constituency to the Shiv Sena, so the MNS sent one of its strongest candidates to fight and certainly split votes again, as it did in 2009. This battle between the Senas, both of whom strangely profess to want to make Modi the next PM, is going to be critical. The Shiv Sena claims that people have understood that the MNS is essentially helping the Congress, but the MNS seems to be as strong as ever among its core voters (who were all once Shiv Sena voters).

The fourth face in all this is Meera Sanyal, the AAP candidate who also contested as an Independent in 2009 (and lost quite badly). But 2014 is fundamentally different from 2009 in that Sanyal has now quit her corporate job and is fully immersed in politics; and she is now with AAP, who has a very visible face in Arvind Kejriwal. Although Sanyal herself is hardly known in the constituency - which is expected given that AAP has no local organization - it is in Kejriwal's name that she has been asking for votes.

The other interesting contest is in Mumbai North Central, where Medha Patkar is fighting it out against the BJP's Poonam Mahajan. This is an interesting poll because Mahajan is a rather poor orator and is mainly banking on her late father's appeal (Pramod Mahajan who, at one time, was the BJP's most powerful face from Maharashtra), while Patkar is known for her strong views and activism, but faces serious questions from young voters on whether her idea of Mumbai can create any jobs at all.

Maximum City, a city where I spent five wonderful years and the only city in India that I would ever call home, seems to be at a crossroads. While the Lok Sabha elections will certainly have a bearing on its future, the real battle is in October - the Maharashtra Assembly Elections. 

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