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Priya Dutt's popularity under threat from slumdwellers

india Updated: Mar 29, 2014 17:48 IST

This is the seat the Congress can’t lose. Priya Dutt won Mumbai north-central by a huge margin in 2009, getting 43,000 votes more than her top two rivals together, continuing a trend set by her father, the late Sunil Dutt.

More than 70% of the constituency’s population lives in its sprawling slums. And they have backed the Congress for the last three decades.

But of late there have been murmurs of disaffection. When Dutt visited the slums in the past two weeks, residents lashed out at her over issues such as ration, demolition and the lack of basic facilities.

This dissent is not the only thing Dutt has to worry about. She is up against a more united opposition this time.

The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) has not fielded a candidate and this should help the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) young nominee, Poonam Mahajan. The saffron vote will not be divided like in 2009.

Dutt will have to watch out for another challenger. After 14 years, the Samajwadi Party has put up a candidate, Farhan Azmi, whose father, Abu Azmi, heads the party in Mumbai. He could cut into Dutt’s support base in the slums.

“For all these years, we have worked and campaigned to get the Congress elected.

It is not that our problems were getting resolved then, but Sunil Dutt sahab was more approachable and would at least hear our concerns. Priya Dutt has not made any attempt to reach out to us at all,” said Farooq Ghosi, the SP’s state vice-president, who claimed to have put pressure on his leaders to field a candidate in the constituency.

Farhan Azmi is a Jai Hind College alumnus and successful restaurateur, who is married to Bollywood actor Ayesha Takia. He is gearing up to woo Bandra’s elite and the area’s Christian community.

The BJP hasn’t given up hope either. The party hopes Poonam Mahajan will be able to enthuse the Marathi voters in the area.

In a dig at Dutt, Mahajan said: “Accessibility, availability and credibility is my motto to govern the constituency. I want to implement (Narendra) Modiji’s model of development here”.

The constituency’s fourth candidate, soft-spoken high court lawyer Phiroze Palkhivala, who was fielded by the Aam Aadmi Party only a week ago, is unlikely to create a major impact, but could gather some votes.