“I am not asking you to join politics. Dedicate 15 minutes of your day for the country’s betterment. Let’s start from Ghatkopar.” That’s BJP candidate Parag Shah’s advice to any youngster he meets while campaigning in his Ghatkopar ward 132 (Garodia Nagar-Rajawadi).
“Responsibility Che. Pravin Chheda, ” goes the catchy slogan of Shah’s biggest competition in the Gujarati-dominated ward.
The fight between Shah and Congress’ Chheda — leader of opposition in BMC and sitting corporator from Ghatkopar — in the Gujarati heartland is one of the most anticipated battles this poll season, as both heavyweights, from the same community, vie for the same voter base.
As poll day nears, the battle is heating up. With 16,000 Gujarati voters in the ward, both Shah and Chheda are leaving no stone unturned. The pamphlets, greetings, promises, CDs, meetings are all in Gujarati. On Wednesday, Shah was canvassing door-to-door in the old residential buildings of Sai Baba lane in Ghatkopar (East). He has already visited 80% of the ward, a BJP functionary said. The richest candidate in Mumbai, with assets worth Rs690 crore, Shah is contesting for the first time. He is well-known, a construction magnet and President of the Mumbai Jain Mahasangh. His strategy: touch the feet of elders, shake hands with men his age and ask youngsters to join a BJP cell and work for development. “I do not talk about my opponents. I only ask for blessings so I can do good work,” the 47-year-old said.
Barely 3km away, Chheda was distributing CDs and pamphlets in Neelkanth Vihar, a high-rise. Another rich candidate, Chheda has declared assets worth Rs140 crore. He has canvassed in more than 400 buildings, a Congress worker said. “I know the Gujarati vote will be split between us (Shah and Chheda). It is the South Indian and Marathi vote, about 20,000 , which will be decisive and I am confident of winning them,” said Chheda, who alleged that being a big developer and businessman, Shah is not approachable. “You have to meet 50 people before you meet him, is what I have heard. The middle-class cannot relate to this.” The Shiv Sena and MNS have fielded local partymen, both first-timers. Two independents and a BSP candidate are also contesting . The Gujarati belt has voted for BJP for 30 years. Chheda was a BJP leader before he shifted to Congress during the 2012 polls, following differences with BJP MLA Prakash Mehta.