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Milind Deora keeps his cool on E-day

Salil Kumar in Mumbai | April 26, 2004 13:42 IST
Last Updated: April 26, 2004 14:49 IST

For Milind Deora, the 27-year old Congress nominee from Mumbai South, it's a big day. In his maiden election he is pitted against the Bharatiya Janata Party's sitting member of Parliament, Jaywantiben Mehta. If he is nervous on election day, Deora is not showing it.

The day began early for him. He arrived at the Hill Grange High School near Jaslok Hospital, Peddar Road, in a Toyota Land Cruiser, at the head of a cavalcade.

After giving sound bytes to waiting journalists he goes in and votes. The cavalcade then leaves as quickly as it comes.

"I am going to go around the area," Deora tells about his plan for the day, "meeting people, party workers, checking if all is fine."

"We have received reports that the opposition may try to indulge in bogus voting," he adds.

On Monday, the second phase of the general election covering 136 seats across 11 states, it is no surprise to see many of the voters in India's richest constituency come to exercise their franchise in chauffer-driven cars -- no long queues, no dust, no commotion and no booth-capturing.

Mumbai South had been Milind Deora's father's pocket borough from 1984 to 1996, when he lost it to Mehta. He reclaimed it in 1998, only to lose it to Mehta a year later.

In 1999, the Samajwadi Party, which cornered 19,128 votes had come between victory and Murli Deora. He lost the election by just 10,243 votes.

The SP has fielded a candidate this time too, but Milind Deora is confident it will not eat into Muslim votes. The contest, he says, is a fight between "secular and communal forces".

Deora Jr's message to people was simple: "I am young and I will deliver."

Some say his youth is an an advantage.

But 23-year-old Meherzad, a voter at the Hill Grange school, differs. "He is young when compared to Jaywantiben Mehta. But he does not have much experience."

Meherzad admits he does not know much about what Mehta has done for the constituency. "I have just come to exercise my vote."

But Zarna Doshi, a teacher, is clear in her mind: "The young who are trying to do something for the country should be given a chance."

"Jaywantiben Mehta is gutsy, she is experienced, and one respects what she has done," she adds. At the same time, "the youth should also prove themselves."

21-year-old Neha Shah, who is studying jewellery designing, is more vocal in her support for the Congress candidate. "He is young, intelligent and has done a lot of social work."

He is doing a very good job helping poor students in many schools, she says.

She is referring to Sparsh -- a non-governmental organisation providing free computer education for the underprivileged -- which Milind Deora took over from his father three years ago.

But Harshad Thakkar, father of a 22-year-old girl who has also come to vote, is clear Deora should not be sent to Parliament.

"The results speak for themselves," he says, referring to what Mehta has done. "Small things make a big difference. There is more general cleanliness now. Sanitation, water, etc are issues that are not a big problem."

He says though the candidate "may be nice", there is no way the Congress should be allowed to come to power.

That prospect also rankles Madanani, a freedom-fighter.

"We drove away white people and the Congress now wants to impose a white person on us," he says referring to Congress president Sonia Gandhi's Italian origin.

"That means my efforts have gone waste."

He says Gandhi, "who still owns a house in Italy", has no clue about India's culture. "Doesn't the Congress have any other leader?"

In the end, when the results are out, this may be one question that comes back to haunt Deora.


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