Sunday’s ‘Meet and Know Your Candidate’ event in the Mumbai South constituency was a clear indication of the post-delimitation divide that exists between the old constituency and its new segments.
The event was organised with the intention of facilitating an interaction between the candidates and voters. There were the elite residents from Malabar Hill, Colaba and other areas, on one side, and middle class, newly included voters from Byculla, Sewri and parts of Parel, which were earlier part of Mumbai South Central constituency, on the other. Their issues and priorities were different but none were addressed.
Instead, the meeting ended up being a chaotic affair with the language issue and one-upmanship by politicians and their supporters taking centre stage.
“I am not surprised this happened. We have new volatile constituencies and there is bound to be raw emotion,” said organiser Indrani Malkani of the Malabar Hill Residents’ Association. “This is what the constituency is like now and it had to come out in the open so people stop associating south Mumbai only with the elite.”
The event, held at Seva Sadan, Gamdevi, began with first time candidates Bala Nandgaonkar (51), Meera Sanyal (47, independent) and Mona Shah (38, Professionals’ Party of India) introducing themselves.
Nandgaonkar, a Shiv Sena rebel who is contesting on a Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) ticket, was asked a question about Ganesh mandals in the area in Marathi. Some members of the crowd insisted that proceedings be conducted in Hindi or English. Nandgaonkar retorted that people in Maharashtra should know Marathi.
Moderator Nilesh Baxi, in an attempt to calm things down, said Marathi should be avoided so that everyone understands the proceedings.
This triggered a noisy argument with Sena party worker Vijay Surve raising an objection.
“We will not tolerate this insult to the Marathi language,” he shouted as other Sena supporters joined in. The police and organisers had to intervene to calm tempers down.
Reacting to the commotion, Sanyal said: “What you see here is a reflection of what we see in Parliament.”
The crowd, already agitated, ‘boo’ed sitting Congress MP Milind Deora (32) who arrived over an hour late. Deora tried explaining that he had informed the organisers in advance that he would be delayed. His apologies did not help and the police had to intervene again. Shiv Sena candidate Mohan Rawale (60) also came late.
However, no amount of pacifying helped and what came to the fore was a contest between Nandgaonkar’s, Rawale’s and Deora’s supporters. Sena and MNS supporters clashed on everything, from the cause of the Marathi manoos to who did what on 26/11.
“How can you take credit for your work on 26/11?” MNS supporters asked Rawale when he said his party workers had helped commandos find a way into Nariman House. “We were up all night donating blood at hospitals.”
Rawale, who had otherwise managed to hold the crowd’s attention with his address, took the typical Shiv Sena route.
“The Shiv Sena had taken this up first and the Marathi manoos will always remain our priority,” he said, even as MNS supporters began shouting. The police, who were worried shoes would start flying around the hall, had to step in again and the meeting was wrapped up.
However, it left people dissatisfied. “I came here to listen to what these candidates plan to do,” said a dejected Tarang Baxi, a 29-year-old software analyst from Tardeo. “But I can see no one here wants to address issues. The only want to indulge in rabble rousing.”
Chandu Chavan, a 49-year-old businessman from Girgaum agreed with Baxi. “I wanted to know if these candidates have an agenda. But all we saw was hulla gulla (chaos).”
Forty-one-year-old Suryakant Shinge was most disappointed. A garment industry worker, Shinge is contesting as an independent and hoped to get a platform on Sunday.
“I wanted to tell them that I am willing to give them assurances of the work I will do on stamp paper,” said Shinge who paid the deposit of Rs 10,000 with the help of co-workers who collected money. “But I didn’t even get a chance to speak.”