'Too many slums'
How does a wealthy Bandra building society view the elections? What are the issues worrying them? Neeta Kolhatkar spends an afternoon at Le Papillon, on Mount Mary road, Bandra, north Mumbai, when the BJP Lok Sabha candidate for Mumbai North Central, Poonam Mahajan comes visiting.
One would think it is a high society party.
People are stepping out of Mercedes Benzs, Audis and BMWs. Women wear diamonds. Shoes are studded. Glares and hair clips too.
You know you are in an elite world when residents ask the Lok Sabha candidate: "Please clear the connecting roads at (Bandra) Reclamation so that our cars can pass smoothly. Too many slums, with children running around, goats and cows. We can't drive easily. It is unsafe."
This, while the rest of India grapples with basic right to life and other essential issues.
It’s a meeting between Bharatiya Janta Party candidate for Mumbai North Central, Poonam Mahajan, daughter of late Pramod Mahajan, a powerful BJP leader, and the residents of Le Papillon, Bandra, dubbed as the Queen of Mumbai suburbs where the top Bollywood stars live.
Nearly 100 residents have come from this building, on Mt Mary road, and from neighbouring buildings for this meeting.
"We want to maintain the overall ambience of this area. We know our MP Priya Dutt. I know (Poonam) Mahajan. But other residents wanted to know who she is. So we organised this meeting," says resident Ravi Lad.
His wife Neeta Lad adds, "We may do all this but finally all end up voting for Congress," before her husband nudges her into silence.
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Image: BJP candidate for Mumbai North Central, Poonam Mahajan, visits a high-end building society in Bandra, north Mumbai
Photographs: Hitesh Harisinghani/Rediff.com
'We give Priya's party 30 per cent'
Are most people in this society voting Congress? Or is it the BJP? There are hardly any Modi posters up around here.
Resident Murli Puswani a resident says, "We are convinced Modi can deliver and he can lead the nation. But that is 40 percent. This candidate is new. She holds 60 percent responsibility to deliver. We don't know her. With Priya, we give her 70 percent. And her party only 30 percent. See Priya has done a lot for us and she is approachable. But it is her party which is a problem."
Another senior citizen, Nanik Malkani, says, "My entire family is looking for a change. We have been deprived. Look at the inflation. The poor are becoming poorer and the politicians richer. But who is Poonam Mahajan? I am giving the vote to BJP not to her. Hopefully I will learn something now."
Mahajan, who is accompanied by the local women corporator Alka Kerkar and few other BJP leaders, is asked to speak. "There is a wave of change and I am seeing it across the constituency. Just few days ago the government inaugurated the Santa Cruz-Chembur link road. I will not speak of corruption or focus on negative aspects. But this delay says it all. I will give you a report card of the NDA government and that of the UPA government. Compare it yourselves."
Mahajan speaks on a wide range of issues. She says she wished to improve and upgrade Mumbai local trains and that there needs to be a separate hub for local railways and a separate budget for Mumbai locals and not the small allotment it gets from the central budget.
She is soon interrupted as residents raise the issue of clearing the slums and constructing toilets at Carter Road nearby.
"We find it difficult that near the promenade there are no toilets. We are senior citizens," says a senior citizen.
Patiently Mahajan says, "As an MP I am expected to make good policies. But wherever I go I am stopped by people saying that their toilets aren't built, the paver block work is pending and (other) local issues. I have brought the corporator. Let's solve this issue. It will be paid service but we can't stop the public like autowalas, taxi drivers and from using it," said Mahajan.
The residents agree saying it should be paid toilets. "Yes, we understand the public will use it and are fine with it. But charge and maintain them."
Another key concern, aired by many was the property taxes, that the state government has raised now 2000 times from 50 times in just five years. The main grouse is that Congress leaders and mainly Dutt, have 'listened,' but taken no action. Eighty per cent of senior citizens complained that this was plain injustice.
"I am very sore with the Congress for only one thing -- that we are being constantly harassed by the government. All our societies, nearly the entire area are on leased lands from the government. We are constantly being harassed over rents despite court orders that have gone in our favour," says NB Vakil of Vrindavan society.
Gaul Sajnani, Vakil's friend and a resident of the same area comments, "Congress leaders and Dutt are good listeners. But not action takers. They always listen. They also need to allow new construction here and speak to the church authorities to broaden the roads a little. This city is in a mess and the country too."
Vakil emphasises, "I have lived here for at least 75 years and can say the way we have been treated is unfair."
The residents sit down to have snacks and high tea. It’s time to slip away. The auto rickshaw driver who drives one away from the area says: "There is no wave. The MP doesn't have it easy this time. Nobody recognises the BJP lady, but had that Ashish Shelar (local BJP politician) been put up, things would have been different," said the driver.
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Image: BJP candidate, Poonam Mahajan for Mumbai North Central in a rally Mumbai
Photographs: Courtesy Poonam Mahajan's media cell
'I like this boy's demeanor'
Neeta Kolhatkar tracks the the popularity of Samajwadi newbie candidate Abu Farhan Azmi in Mumbai's North Central constituency.
The Mumbai North-Central constituency is a confusing jumble of communities, cultures and demographics. On one side is Bandra West, a place of sprawling high rises, where the creme de la creme of this city live. Just a kilometre away are the Khar-Danda slums. Beyond are again middle-class and upper class areas of Khar, Santa Cruz, Vile Parle and Andheri, where celebrities and models reside (those who dream and those who have achieved).
On the east is another story altogether. There's the huge MIG colony, home to societies of Maharashtrian middle-class artistes and writers and a government colony where employees of the state government reside. Towards Santa Cruz, Kalina is a mix of Muslims and Christians; Parle East, again a predominantly Marathi area.
Andheri East, where buildings are even closer together, borders the international airport. Seepz, an economic zone, is nearby. The Hiranandani high rise colony has eaten into the greenery. Beyond this is Kurla, a predominantly Muslim locality, where you are appalled by the deprivation of simple essentials like even a foot-overbridge that can connect the east of the station to the west.
Crowded, ignored, like many other areas, with no proper roads, one can still see it is an aspirational society.
Farhan Azmi, the Samajwadi Party youth president for Maharashtra and the candidate from this area fits in quite well. A young dynamic leader, he is a businessman who owns a chain of restaurants. He hobnobs with celebrities who reside in Bandra-Andheri and is at the same time comfortable with the young bike-riding brigade of Kurla.
“He has the tehzeeb (etiquette), is confident and most of all isn’t entering politics to make money. People like his spirit and the way he mixes with all sorts of people," says resident Kadedin P Yadav.
There is a high level of anger around here. Both the rich and poor complain they have not seen their leader in the last four and half years.
Priya Dutt has enjoyed the goodwill of those who loved her film star dad Sunil Dutt and was advantaged by the sympathy after his death. The support of her legislators has helped her sail through two previous elections. Now for the first time, she has to toil for a victory. In some areas like Jari-Mari, Dutt was turned away by the local residents. The initial reports from sources in the police indicate that Azmi’s entry had made it tough for Dutt.
Parakash Mishra, a businessman, says despite being a Hindu, he would prefer supporting Azmi. When asked why he wouldn’t help the BJP's Narendra Modi become the PM, Mishra says, “I like this boy’s demeanour, he does not speak of religion. Instead he speaks of creating jobs and security. Till now all these older politicians have used religion to get us divided and I do not like it. I want to vote for a different person this time. Someone who at least wants to make a difference.”
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Image: UP chief minister Akhilesh Yadav (right) arrives in Mumbai to support Samajwadi Party's Farhan Azmi's candidacy.
Photographs: Reuben NV/Rediff.com
'I liked their stand'
Zafar Qureshi, secretary All India Jamiatul Quresh-Mumbai Unit also feels Azmi does not stress on religion. He says, “I urge more than 25,000 members to vote as per the appeal of the parent body. This boy is deserving of our votes, he is hard working and has a vision.”
Azmi has tried to create a balance, getting the more experienced, older Samajwadi party leaders involved as well as younger ones, who are extra enthusiastic, bike-wielding riders and the elite who are influencers in society.
A leading Bandra designer, who has long been a devoted voter of the Congress stressed that a new face in the elections was essential, but worried about Azmi's father MLA Abu Azmi’s controversial views. “I know Farhan and he does seem dedicated, But he lost a lot of ground because of his father’s ridiculous statements. Even Ayesha Takia, Farhan’s actress wife, didn’t support his views. I liked their stand. I am a patron of his restaurant. But politics is different and about making an ideological change,” says the designer who did not want to be named.
Many feel that Azmi is true to the secular ideology, more so than others. Says KD Yadav, “We are old Samajwadi voters and believe in their ideology. Initially they seemed slow in their campaign, but now they have geared up a lot. We see that people are changing their stand and they find his style appealing.”
With the Marathi vote being divided between two warring cousins, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena's Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena's Uddhav Thackeray, many Maharashtrians from Kalina believe that Azmi’s leadership can make a difference in there area. They would rather be with a party that is different, than get sandwiched for proving loyalty. “Initially, Kalina was not with this party, Now people are seeing the party’s work. People feel confident that he is capable of fulfilling their work. Compared to others, who are mostly are experienced, he is young and dynamic, his workers we have been canvassing in this area and I do believe in him," says resident Dnyanesuwar Ganpat Shinde.
Image: Farhan Azmi on a campaign trail in Mumbai North Central
Photographs: Courtesy Farhan Azmi's media cell