Kalidas Kolambkar, Mumbai’s longest serving legislator, is all set to face the toughest battle of his political career, as he will contest the assembly election for the seventh time from Wadala constituency.
Working against the Congress leader is the anti-incumbency factor, coupled with the challenge from the resurgent Shiv Sena, with whom he cut his political teeth. Kolambkar, a close aide of former industries minister Narayan Rane, is campaigning hard to continue his reign, after an uninterrupted tenure of 24 years.
He had resigned from his post in 2006 after defecting to Congress with Rane, and was re-elected in a by-election a month later.
The list of complaints against Kolambkar is long: absence of basic amenities, an alleged nexus with builders, lack of progress in redevelopment of old chawls such as the BDD chawl and slums, as well as non-governance by the Congress-NCP combine.
To wrest the seat from the veteran, the Sena has fielded Hemant Doke, who was once Kolambkar’s protégé. “Despite being in power, Kolambkar was not able to bring about redevelopment in our area, and the people continue to languish in these dangerous structures,” said Doke.
Doke added that people are eager for a change and the Sena is keen on reclaiming this seat, which had been its stronghold till Kolambkar defected to the Congress with Rane in 2005.
In the recent Lok Sabha polls, successful Sena candidate Rahul Shewale was able to garner a lead of approximately 27,500 votes, which the Sena now wants to capitalise on.
Even though Wadala constituency has a 58% concentration of Maharashtrian residents, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have not been able to make any headway here.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has fielded Pramod Patil, who contested the 2009 Assembly elections as an MNS candidate and indirectly helped Kolambkar sail through to a victory.
Kolambkar, however, is confident of winning yet again. “I am the most accessible legislator and have always been by the side of my electorate, both in joy and grief. They have always supported me, irrespective of my party affiliation,” said Kolambkar.
He dismissed allegations of partiality towards certain builders. “I don’t thrust any builder on the people. Residents choose builders and I support their decision,” he said.
While critics acknowledge that he is accessible, they point out that this has hardly made any difference to the lives of the people in his constituency. “Kolambkar has an excellent PR network, but the people continue to suffer in dilapidated chawls and slums,” said Mihir Kotecha, a BJP candidate from the area.
Kotecha, who was fielded after his party’s split with the Sena, will be hindered by the lack of his party’s organisational network in the constituency.