The Mankhurd-Shivaji Nagar constituency, where more than 90% of voters are slumdwellers, is infamous for vast expanses of shanties against the backdrop of a dumping ground, unhygienic living conditions, malnutrition and a lack of basic amenities. Ironically, it is represented by one of the city’s richest public representatives.
Samajwadi Party state president Abu Azmi, 59, is a businessman and a hotelier and has moveable and immovable assets worth Rs160 crore. He is better known because of the numerous controversies he is usually at the centre of.
The Colaba resident is in the fray with 20 other candidates, but political analysts believe the real fight is between Congress candidate and advocate Yusuf Abrahani, former-corporator Suresh Patil (Shiv Sena) and Azmi.
Although this is his second time in the constituency, the fight is likely to be tougher, with parties like BSP, MiM, MNS also fielding Muslim candidates, for a segment where about 55-60% of voters are from the community.
An Arts graduate from Jaunpur in UP, Azmi plans to focus on chowk sabhas in the last leg of his campaign, after initial rallies and padyatras. The SP leader usually dresses in a white kurta and black jacket, accompanied by five-seven bodyguards and two armed police constables, while campaigning in the narrow lanes and by lanes of the constituency.
After winning the 2009 elections from Mankhurd-Shivaji Nagar with 38,435 votes, Azmi’s comments on social issues have often seen him at the centre of controversies, since he started his career in the 1990s. The last such comment was that women who have sex before marriage should be hanged, for which even his daughter-in-law and actor, Ayesha Takia, lashed out him.
During rallies, Azmi assures slumdwellers he will solve issues such as construction of toilets, roads and schools,the way he solved their water woes.
“Mankhurd-Shivaji Nagar now gets 17-18 million litres of water a day, as opposed to the earlier 8 million litres,” he said. He has promised Muslim voters that a burial ground would be opened in the area as soon as the code of conduct gets over.
If elected again, he would try and close the dumping ground, responsible for pollution in the area, Azmi told HT. His opponents, however, are of the opinion that Azmi has barely done anything for the people in the last five years.
“People are facing severe health issues, but there is no big hospital around. Patients are forced to go Sion or KEM for treatment. He has done nothing to set up a medical facility in the area,” said Patil, a former corporator. In fact, he claimed he had acquired land for a new burial ground for Muslims at Rafiq nagar, but others were trying to claim credit.