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'We are not worried what Modiji says about Muslims'

Last updated on: May 18, 2024 00:13 IST
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Prasanna D Zore/ accompanies 26/11 prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam as he canvasses for votes in his first Lok Sabha election.
Photographs: Palashranjan Bhaumick.

IMAGE: From left: Ujjwal Nikam, Seema Ramdas Athawale and Ramdas Athawale during the padyatra in Mumbai's Bandra East, May 16, 2024. Photograph: Palashranjan Bhaumick for

The air is thick with anticipation as one reaches the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority building in Bandra East in suburban Mumbai. It's almost 11.30 am and a sizeable crowd, some even belonging to -- as Narendra Modi once observed -- the community which could be easily identified by their clothes has gathered in front of the MHADA complex from where the state government runs its housing schemes for the lower and middle income groups in the state.

Former special public prosecutor Ujjwal Nikam, the Bharatiya Janata Party's Mumbai North Central aspirant, is scheduled for a roadshow, which begins, of all places in this constituency today, just a stone's throw away from his party's bete noire Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray's residence, Matoshree.

On travel by train

IMAGE: Ujjwal Nikam interacts with commuters inside a suburban train. Photograph: Palashranjan Bhaumick for

Nikam, whose day begins at 9 am with his visit to the Bandra terminus for a meeting with the taxi and rickshaw unions, is supposed to travel by train from the Bandra railway station to Vile Parle at 9.30 am so that he can understand the issues faced by railway commuters.

Like any Mumbaikar worth his salt and rail travel, Nikam knows the importance of striking a chord with the people whose life depends upon the Western Line that connects the city's suburban north and tony south.

It's 10.30 am and Nikam, already delayed by an hour, pops hurriedly into the second class bogey of the suburban Western Railway from platform number 1 at Bandra station.

In the next 15 minutes that the train takes to travel between these two stations Nikam interacts with those travelling in his bogey.

He empathises with commuters as he tries to understand their issues. He promises them nothing but in those 15 minutes he has struck a chord with his fellow travelers.

IMAGE: Ujjwal Nikam with Bharatiya Janata Party supporters on his way towards MHADA in Bandra East. Photograph: Palashranjan Bhaumick for

He alights at the Vile Parle railway station at 11 am and from there rushes towards the MHADA complex in Bandra East where he was supposed to start a padyatra (travel by foot) to meet voters in the neighbourhood.

When he reaches there 30 minutes later a band -- the Maratha Band -- welcomes him with the furious beats of Nashik dhol. Firecrackers go crazy and the air is filled with sloganeering.

Slogans like "Bharat Mata Ki Jai!... Har Har Mahadev... Ab Ki Baar, 400 Paar, Jai Jai Jai Shri Ram... fill the hot and humid morning air as Nikam begins his show of strength.

Nikam, who was appointed by the then Congress government as the special public prosecutor to prove Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab's role in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attack, which killed more than 166 people, is waging a political battle against the Congress's Varsha Eknath Gaikwad to fulfill Modi's dream of winning 400 seats in the 2024 Lok Sabha election.

'Vote for the man who sent Kasab to the gallows'

IMAGE: Ujjwal Nikam and Ramdas Athawale greet passersby. Photograph: Palashranjan Bhaumick for

"He is the man who is responsible for sending the Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab to death. Vote for the man who sent Kasab to the gallows," a voice repeatedly blurts from a speaker from atop the vehicle on which Nikam and his entourage -- which for the day include Republian Party (Athawale) leader Ramdas Athawale, Athawale's wife Seema for a very short period, and Shiv Sena leader Uday Samant -- as his cavalcade winds its way through Bandra Kurla Complex's plush residential societies developed by Mumbai's elite developers, then through the rear side of Patrakar Colony, a typical middle class locality in Mumbai, Government Colony, a low income group colony promoted by the state government and for redevelopment of whose prime land of almost 90 acres the very same developers who have built plush BKC residential complexes are vying with each other, and then through the adjoining slums of Saint Dnyaneshwar Nagar and Valmiki Nagar, dominated by the poorest of the poor Muslims and downtrodden in this constituency whose geographical extent covers Ville Parle, Chandivali, Kurla, Bandra West and East, and Kalina.

IMAGE: Ujjwal Nikam and Ramdas Athawale wave at people in adjoining buildings. Photograph: Palashranjan Bhaumick for

All through the three hour election campaign trail the theme that Nikam was responsible for getting the death penalty for Ajmal Kasab is highlighted -- the frequency of this pitch rises as the cavalcade passes through the high income and middle income colonies and not so frequent when it passes through Saint Dnyaneshwar Nagar and Valmiki Nagar -- even as Nikam, Athawale and Samant do their mechanical namastes, waving of hands, victory signs, and pose for scores of professional cameras and hundreds of mobile consumers passing by.

Apart from the slogans that rent the air with maximum gusto during the first hour when the volunteers -- women, senior citizens, children and the youngsters -- of the BJP, Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde), Nationalist Congress Party (Ajit Pawar) and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (Raj Thackeray) are agile on their fresh feet, the tempo drops as the sun ascends and the women and elders in the crowd take some time off to cool their heels under the shade of trees that line streets.

Missing in action: Huge cutouts of Narendra Modi and Bal Thackeray

IMAGE: BJP supporters from Bharat Nagar. Photograph: Prasanna D Zore/

Ask anybody in the crowd how many seats will the Mahayuti alliance win in Mumbai the only answer is: All six.

Counter them with 'why' and almost everybody answers 'Modi'.

While political experts claim that the Modi Magic is missing in the 2024 general election, the common people in the street -- at least those in the crowd on Thursday -- vow that they will vote for Modi and the candidate who contests the election doesn't matter much.

Interestingly, the huge Modi cutouts which had crowded Mumbai's skyline during the 2019 Lok Sabha election are seen nowhere.

IMAGE: BJP supporters chant slogans. Photograph: Palashranjan Bhaumick for

Ditto for Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray, the use of whose pictures, posters and name, has remained a sore bone of contention between the two Shiv Sena factions after their June 2022 split and the subsequent capture of the party symbol -- the bow and arrow -- and the party name by Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena.

Both Modi and Thackeray were visible in small 2.5-by-2.5 feet tiny cutouts which mostly BJP and Shiv Sena supporters waved with some josh (vigour).

Just one small van leading the cavalcade prominently displays only Modi on it while the vehicle in which Nikam travels has small pictures of all the leaders from the BJP, SS, NCP and MNS.

No coordination between BJP-SS-NCP-MNS flagbearers

IMAGE: MNS, BJP, Shiv Sena and NCP supporters wave their respective party flags at the election campaign. Photograph: Prasanna D Zore/

While political leaders belonging to the BJP-SS-NCP-MNS joined hands to form a grand alliance called the Mahayuti in Modi's bid to win 400 plus seats, the volunteers of these parties on the ground display clear apathy towards each other at Nikam's rally.

It is only natural when leaders of these very same parties ridiculed and took pot shots at each other's leaders since 2019, their workers, though exhibiting a disciplined loyalty towards their leaders, were not sharing any bonding with each other on the ground.

The MNS, which had the biggest flags on show, led from the front, and formed the first flank of Thursday's rally. They were followed by BJP, Shiv Sena and NCP workers waving flags that were relatively smaller in size then that of the MNS flags (a few obviously envied the size of the MNS's huge flags and wished their flagbearers too would have waved them proudly), who seemed as disinterested in sloganeering, as those of the NCP, Shiv Sena and BJP workers.

Video: The Dance and Band of Democracy
Palashranjan Bhaumick for


"It's difficult to bond with each other when we know how much we had to compromise to be seen as one," quips an MNS worker from Bandra East. "Our leaders had often thrown poisonous political darts at each other and now here we are the flagbearers of the same people who we know hate Marathis," he says.

"But orders are orders and since the day Raj saheb publicly declared that he is with Modiji, we too have forgotten our differences and are working wholeheartedly for Modiji's victory," he adds.

The flagbearers of the Shiv Sena, BJP and NCP (most of whom came from the Bharat Nagar slums in Bandra East) share similar sentiments about bonding with the volunteers of other parties.

'Every government should be booted out after one term'

IMAGE: Ujjwal Nikam and Ramdas Athawale during the rally. Photograph: Palashranjan Bhaumick for

The most interesting quote of the entire afternoon comes from someone who is not part of this rally. As Nikam's cavalcade halts near the sprawling Government Colony, most of the volunteers quickly grab any and every corner they can to rest their tired feet.

It is one of those hot days in May and a few elderly women and men need assistance. A lady in her mid-60s is sent back home in an autorickshaw midway through the campaign.

As Nikam's van halts at the junction near Government Colony that faces the Chetana College of Arts and Commerce and where streets on both sides are lined with small and medium enterprises and shops, a lady shopkeeper comes out of her shop to take stock of the commotion outside.

IMAGE: People who travelled with Ujjwal Nikam's padyatra resting under the shade of trees lined along the street. Photograph: Prasanna D Zore/

Ask her if she or any of the people and women she knows gets influenced by such shows of pomp when they go out to vote and she says, "Do you think we are fools to vote on the basis of such campaigns?"

"What did Modiji or BJP do for us? Nothing. Look at the rates of essentials like gas cylinders, fuel, pulses, vegetables and fruits. Do you think people like us can afford these on a regular basis?" she asks.

"If we elect Rahul Gandhi, do you think he will do any better for us? He may also do what Modiji did with prices of essential items, but after ten long years one must think of giving him a chance," she says.

"But he sounds very promising now. Let us give him a chance. If he fails, then we can always boot him out after five years. I strongly believe that no political party should get a second chance. Every government needs to be booted out after the first term," she adds.

'No commitment. But will always be available for my voters'

IMAGE: Ujjwal Nikam pays his respects at the Kushinara Buddha Vihar.Photograph: Prasanna D Zore/

Nikam, who remains ensconced in his van for almost the entire three hour stretch, steps out to pay his respects at the Kushinara Buddha Vihara (Buddha temple) at Shastri Nagar just where the plus residential skyrises give way to a four-storeyed middle-income colony here.

Accompanied by Ramdas Athawale and Athawale's wife Seema, Nikam's entourage enters the Buddhist temple and spends five minutes inside. He is soon flanked on all sides by mediapersons for a quick sound-byte and he happily obliges.

This stop also marks one of those phases of the three-hour campaign trail -- otherwise marked with dull moments waving at BJP workers or at windows of highrises that are shuttered and none are in their balconies -- where Nikam shows some sprightliness and agility.

Video: Jilani Shaikh garlands Ujjwal Nikam using a JCB.
Prasanna D Zore/


The other two moments that bring some zing to this otherwise dull campaigning is when Nikam and Uday Samant are garlanded by the Shiv Sena's Jilani Shaikh, a leader from Bandra East belonging to Shinde's Shiv Sena, and his supporters using a JCB and showered with flowers from a bulldozer (yes, a bulldozer finally makes an entry into Mumbai politics).

"We are not worried about what Modiji says about Muslims," Shaikh tells later when the campaign halts for the afternoon session near Valmiki Nagar, a slum tenement dominated by people belonging to the Valmiki caste.

"All these things happen in the heat of election campaigning and we don't need to pay any heed to such bombast. Muslims of Mumbai have no misgivings for the BJP or the RSS or what Modiji is saying about Muslims and they will vote for Modiji's huge victory," says Shaikh who soon joins a group of mourners taking a departed soul for burial at the nearby kabristan.

Video: Ujjwal Nikam on why he visited Valmiki Nagar
Prasanna D Zore/


Meanwhile, it's the final halt for the afternoon campaign trail and Nikam accepts the invitation of Anil Mangnani, former BJP corporator Sushma Mangnani's husband, who takes him to the nearby Valmiki temple and meet women from "my samaj so that we can assure Nikam saheb that we will vote en masse for him," Anil tells us.

Nikam's entry into a small hall at Valmiki Nagar and his visit to the Valmiki temple marks the second most exhilarating moment of his campaign where he mingles with the aam janata and interacts with them about the issues they face.

Speaking to, Nikam says though he will not commit anything to his voters, "I will always be available for them whenever they need me."

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