Sheru Nisa (45), from her humble address at Sheikh Master Chawl on Virar’s Phulpada Road, has closely witnessed Hero No 1’s biggest flop.
Govinda’s political career: its floundering has perhaps nowhere been more starkly recorded than this chawl, where Govinda’s parents had moved from their upscale Carter Road bungalow in the early ’70s after his actor father Arun Ahuja suffered a huge loss from the only film he produced.
Sheru had grown up with the young Govinda, seen his mother Nirmala Devi, a classical singer, tirelessly working to rebuild their home.
And then he became a star. Years later, Virar’s people elected their ‘Chi Chi’ to represent them in Parliament.
Govinda has hardly been seen since. Sheikh Master Chawl still has long power cuts, buys tanker water, and does not have proper toilets.
Sheru has a thing or two to tell him: “You visited Virar’s residents when you needed their support. Now it’s your turn to reciprocate by solving their problems; after all, you have grown up with them. They are angry and rightly so. Why do you want to be treated as Pardesi Babu in your own home?”
Two kilometers away, sitting near Palm House, an old and crumbling house that the actor’s family had shifted to from the chawl (tenement), a group of youngsters deliver their verdict: “Ninety per cent of Virar-Vasai voters will not support him today.”
The Congress MP has not renovated the small, hut-shaped house surrounded by trees. A family photograph greets visitors here.
“His brother comes here sometimes,” said Sunanda, the housekeeper.
Govinda comes to the Sai temple on Ram Navami to take part in a film night show. “That is his only connection with the area. After his victory procession, we have not seen him here,” said resident Bal Krishna Kripan.
Kripan’s friend Jaish Patil reminds that Govinda’s agenda was housing, transportation and education. “What happened? We get water once in two days and the power cuts are ten hours long. Film stars should remain in Bollywood and not experiment with politics. They don’t understand our problems,” he said.
The retired railway official, while blaming local MLA Hitendra Thakur for bringing Govinda to North Mumbai as Congress candidate, said: “Educated people did not support him. Tribals voted for him as he dances well. Well, he continues to dance well. Can you imagine an MP telling his voters during the floods that he would visit them next time?”
While Thakur and Ram Naik (five time MP from the area) have functional offices that take care of public problems, Govinda has not built any office or network that people know of.
However, Captain Shyam Singh, who takes care of Govinda’s projects in Borivali, said: “Sometimes perception overrules reality in politics.”
He claims Govinda has judiciously used his MP fund for transportation, drinking water, sanitation and education. Two years ago when there were floods, he visited almost the entire constituency which ran across 114 km (the third largest in the country), he says.
“Yet, people declared him an absconder,” said Captain Singh, adding that Govinda had avoided taking any political mileage from his public work.
Though Govinda claims to have fulfilled his main promise of quadrupling of Borivali-Virar section on the Western Railways, people say it is not enough. “Did he travel by a local train again after his much-hyped journey by second class. People don’t die in the highly crowded trains — that’s the only saving grace,” said Patil.
In the run-up to the polls, Govinda had travelled by second class on the local train to Virar, which is on the last line on Mumbai’s Western Railway network, 60 km from Churchgate station. He had himself told the media that nothing had changed in the past two decades since he moved from Virar to Mumbai. He had shifted to Mumbai after his first film Ilzaam (1986) became a hit.
After Govinda defeated five-time MP and Petroleum Minister in the NDA government Ram Naik by more than 50,000 votes in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections, Naik launched a campaign highlighting Govinda’s continuous absence from his constituency. “He has only attended 40-odd Parliament sessions sitting out of more than 300, and spoke twice in the Lok Sabha,” Ram Naik had told the media.
Govinda had earlier announced his decision to quit politics. He did not, however, specify the time.