Priya Dutt and Poonam Mahajan are good friends. Striving to step out of their fathers’ shadows, they are showing they can be good foes too.
Mumbai North Central constituency is being billed as the stage for the ‘battle of the star daughters’. Priya, 47, is the daughter of actor Sunil Dutt and Poonam, 33, of slain BJP leader Pramod Mahajan.
A large part of Mumbai North Central belonged to pre-delimitation Mumbai North West constituency, which Sunil Dutt represented – barring the 1996-98 phase – from 1984 until his death in 2005. Priya had stepped in to ensure Mumbai North West remained a Congress bastion. She delivered for the party again in 2009, winning Mumbai North Central by a margin of 1.74 lakh votes.
Priya is believed to have a ‘natural edge’ over Poonam. But the perceived saffron surge could make her fight for a third straight term in the parliament a tad tougher.
Poonam had a disastrous electoral debut; she lost the assembly election from the Ghatkopar seat in 2009. But she hopes the ‘Narendra Modi wave’ and the Marathi votes would see her through, as would the popularity her father enjoyed before being killed by younger brother Pravin in April 2006.
The constituency goes to polls on April 24.
Both Priya and Poonam know their pedigree often overshadows their capability.
But while they are fighting to keep their fathers’ legacies alive, they are trying to stamp their individuality.
In doing so, they are avoiding taking potshots at each other. They are instead focusing on their work and agendas in the run up to the elections.
“The two are good friends, and they want to show they can be good rivals too,” a common acquaintance said.
Though Priya is the more established leader of the two, she has come in for criticism for not displaying her authority in breaking the impasse on many slum rehabilitation projects.
Mumbai North Central has more than 70% of the population living in slums, and dwellers there — many north Indians and Muslims —have invariably backed the Congress.
Priya denied skirting the problem. “Slum redevelopment is a macro-level issue. There are many problems with the state government’s slum rehabilitation scheme and I have been following up with the chief minister to bring in changes to this policy,” she said.
Poonam has a grasp of the scenario too.
“Housing is one of the many problems in the constituency that needs urgent attention. I would want to implement Modiji’s model of development here,” she said.
The slum rehabilitation projects are an issue for the upper crust in the constituency too. They want Mumbai North Central to show a smarter face.