In Mumbai, Cong banks on lack of Modi wave and MNS support
Mumbai: With the Lok Sabha campaign gaining momentum in Mumbai, the Congress faces an uphill task of reviving itself in five constituencies in the megapolis where it had drawn a blank in 2014.
What has made its job difficult is the BJP sealing a pre-poll alliance with the Shiv Sena despite the strained relations between the two saffron allies.
On the other hand, the `X-factor’ that may help the grand old party is MNS chief Raj Thackeray’s support.
Of the six seats in Mumbai, the Congress is contesting five and its ally NCP is contesting one.
Riding on the Modi wave, the BJP and Sena bagged three seats each last time, defeating Congress stalwarts Milind Deora (Mumbai South), Priya Dutt (Mumbai North Central), Gurudas Kamat (Mumbai North West), Eknath Gaikwad (Mumbai South Central) and Sanjay Nirupam (Mumbai North).
BJP’s Kirit Somaiya defeated NCP’s Sanjay Dina Patil in Mumbai North East.
Five years on, the main contestants are the same, except that the BJP replaced Kirit Somaiya with Manoj Kotak and Kamat is no more.
Deora is pitted against sitting Sena MP Arvind Sawant in Mumbai South, Dutt is in the fray against BJP MP Poonam Mahajan in Mumbai North Central, Gaikwad is facing his Sena rival and sitting MP Rahul Shewale in South Central.
Nirupam is trying his luck in Mumbai North West this time while the Congress has fielded actor Urmila Matondkar in Mumbai North against sitting BJP MP Gopal Shetty.
Perennial issues of housing, transportation, open spaces, sanitation and crumbling infrastructure continue to dominate the discourse this time too.
Priya Dutt had initially refused to contest, but city Congress leaders persuaded her to change her mind.
Dutt’s loss in 2014 came as a shock, as Mumbai North Central was a Congress bastion and her father, actor-turned-politician late Sunil Dutt, had represented the seat five times.
A BJP leader claimed that the Congress will put up a real fight only in Mumbai South and Mumbai North West.
In the latter, Nirupam can give a tough fight to Sena’s Gajanan Kirtikar, especially in Andheri-Versova areas, he said.
In Mumbai South, Sena’s Sawant does not have much connect with non-Maharashtrian voters, which could help Deora, who was recently appointed as city Congress chief, the BJP source said.
As for Dutt, he claimed that she has been politically inactive for five years, and has no local support as Congress MLA Mohammed Arif Naseem Khan, who wanted a ticket, would not be working wholeheartedly for her.
In Mumbai North, BJP’s Shetty, who had defeated Nirupam by a massive 4.46 lakh votes in 2014, is facing Bollywood actor Urmila Matondkar who recently joined the Congress.
Matondkar has launched an impressive campaign, reaching out to voters as well as party workers. She is also being seen as articulate.
The BJP is highlighting her marriage with a Kashmiri businessman and is demanding to know her views on Article 370 and 35-A, two laws specific to the restive northern state.
Article 35-A, which was incorporated in the Constitution by a 1954 Presidential Order, accords special rights and privileges to the citizens of Jammu and Kashmir and denies property rights to a woman who marries a person from outside the state.
All candidates are holding padyatras (foot marches).
Gaikwad and Matondkar are going out on morning walks to interact with voters.
While Gaikwad is accompanied by MNS leader Sandeep Deshpande during his morning walk at Shivaji Park in Dadar, Matondkar visits Sanjay Gandhi National Park in Borivali.
After losing all five seats to the Sena-BJP in 2014, the Congress also performed poorly in the civic elections in 2017.
But Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray’s blistering campaign against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP has given it hope. The question is whether the crowds at Thackeray’s rallies will translate into votes for Congress.
In 2009, MNS candidates had got about one lakh votes in each of the six constituencies, eating into Sena-BJP votes and helping the Congress-NCP combine make a clean sweep.
Deora and Matondkar have been meeting local MNS leaders during their campaigns.
A local Congress leader said there is no Modi wave now, and the Congress is not fighting anti-incumbency factor.
“There is no anti-Congress or pro-Congress trend. This works in the Congress’ favour. We are weak in terms of organisation, compared to the BJP and Sena. But we have public support,” he claimed.
Moreover, the MNS’ campaign against Modi is helping the Congress, he said, adding, “The fight for Mumbai will not be one-sided like in 2014.”
Mumbai will go to polls on April 29.