For almost a decade, the Bandra-Andheri stretch has been a Congress stronghold. It’s not that successive Congress governments did anything extraordinary to earn residents’ loyalty. It was because of the influence and goodwill the late Sunil Dutt, who represented the constituency (North West Mumbai) in Parliament, commanded.
In 1999, when the Congress was struggling to win after a split engineered by Sharad Pawar, it was this stretch that gave the Congress a helping hand. Dutt, the sitting MP, played a crucial role in getting the party six Assembly seats that were part of this area.
In 2004, the Dutt factor helped the Congress retain the six seats — Bandra, Kherwadi, Vile Parle, Andheri, Amboli and Santacruz. These seats comprised one third of Congress MLAs elected from Mumbai.
“People trusted Dutt and the goodwill he created is still alive. It has been helping the party win here,” said Baba Siddiqui, who is in his second term as Congress legislator from Bandra.
The area is a cross-section of Mumbai. It includes the elite Bandra-Juhu belt as well as working class localities and slums.
Even Dutt’s opponents would admit that he was always popular, despite his son’s incarceration in the 1993 serial blasts case.
“I always appreciated his stature and what he did for the people, though he was a political opponent,” said Sanjay Nirupam, who was once locked in a bitter tussle with Dutt. “He was one the great leaders of the party, and the goodwill is still paying dividends to the Congress.” Nirupam, who has shifted to the Congress now, pointed out that Dutt did not hesitate to criticise his own party’s government when it banned dance bars, leaving hundreds of bar girls jobless.
That apart, Dutt’s popularity among the minorities helped the Congress in election after election.
Nationally, too, the Dutts were respected, with their strong advocacy of secularism and peace initiatives at the height of terrorism. The family also enjoys cordial relations with the Gandhi family.
While Dutt’s daughter Priya, who was elected from his constituency after his death, is not as wildly popular and does not wield the same influence, she does have a clean image.