Ram Singh stands outside Malad railway station and points to a line of vegetable and fruit vendors.
“You will find all of UP (Uttar Pradesh) and Bihar here,” he says.
A potato vendor, the 40-year-old Singh takes pride in being a Bihari Bambaiyya. Like most migrants, he is a registered voter; he has lived 30 years in the city.
Singh knows his time is now, when elections are round the corner.
Parties in the fray know north Indian migrants are a suburban vote bank they cannot ignore and politicians are wooing the community with all their skill.
This time they have all the more reason to do so, what with Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray’s anti-north Indian campaign in 2008 available as a readymade issue.
The north Indian vote
The suburban belt from Andheri to Borivli has a significant north Indian presence.
Some of these areas fall in the Mumbai North West constituency, but most are part of the Mumbai North constituency, where the fight is between BJP’s Ram Naik and Congress’s Sanjay Nirupam.
North Indians form up to 25 per cent of the electorate in Mumbai North.
And while many north Indians say they support the BJP, others in this constituency are also open to giving Nirupam, a Bihari settled in the city, a chance.
“Sanjay Nirupam’s candidature is a slap on the face of those who wanted to divide this city,” Singh said. “We must ensure he goes to Parliament to prove this is our country and that we have the right to settle anywhere.”
To be able to vote, Singh cancelled a trip to his village.
Thackeray has always maintained he has nothing against those who have lived here for decades, only against those who have trickled in recently, as such constant influx puts a strain on the infrastructure.
Autorickshaw driver Jagnarayan Pandey (39) agrees.
“Raj is right,” the north Indian living in Chandivali said. “But his way of explaining this is wrong.”
Pandey is a BJP supporter, his 19-year-old son an MNS party worker. “It is his choice,” Pandey said.
Such arguments cut no ice with Ramdeni Kandu (67), a native of UP. “People like Raj create a divide,” he said.
For the upper middle class, the entire issue is insignificant. “This (MNS-north Indian issue) is not even on my mind,” a teacher who resides in Kandivli said, requesting her north Indian name not be mentioned to avoid trouble. “Raj did it just to attract the Marathi man after quitting the (Shiv) Sena.”
Support, yes. But vote?
Thackeray may have managed to make an impression on the Marathi man right from his days in the Shiv Sena, but that may not necessarily translate into votes.
The Marathi vote may get divided between the Shiv Sena and other regional parties, such as the NCP and the MNS.
Businessman Surendra Golikeri (60) said the issue would have been decisive if all regional parties had come together.
“The Shiv Sena has aligned with the BJP, which is contradictory to the issue. The NCP has an electoral understanding with the UPA, so they won’t broach the subject,” he said. “So the issue is getting diluted.”