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An inconvenient truth

mumbai Updated: Oct 02, 2009 00:55 IST
Naresh Kamath
Naresh Kamath
Hindustan Times
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They have been undefeated in their constituencies for decades, the sheer weight of their experience and massive votebanks crushing all opposition.

This election, though, the odds have shifted. And even the big names among Mumbai’s state representatives are feeling the heat.

With the constituency borders recently redrawn based on the latest (2001) census, some of the city’s best-known MLAs are now dealing not just with seats that have expanded or shrunk but with areas that now sport an entirely new demographic.

To make things worse, Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and the 18-party Third Front — shaky though it may be — also threaten to eat into their votebanks.

Take Mumbadevi legislator Raj Purohit (53) of the BJP.

A representative here for 24 years — once as corporator and four times as MLA — his Gujarati majority has been considerably diluted after the constituency was expanded.

Initially, Mumbadevi was made up of areas like Kalbadevi and Zaveri Bazar, areas where a largely Gujarati business-class always voted BJP.

Now, the Mumbadevi seat has been merged with Colaba, and renamed after this Congress stronghold.

And the effect of this new demographic was clear in the Lok Sabha election in April, when Congress candidate Milind Deora secured a lead of about 39,000 votes over the saffron combine’s Mohan Rawle (Shiv Sena).

In fact, Colaba is generally such an unshakeable bastion of the Congress that it was the only seat won by the party in 1995, at the height of an anti-Congress wave.

“After delimitation, this seat has a much larger number of voters from minority communities,” said political analyst Nilu Damle. “These voters usually go with the Congress, and that is not a good sign for contenders from the saffron combine.”

Umerkhadi legislator Bashir Patel (57) is facing a similar struggle.

Patel has represented this area for 25 years. And though he switched parties several times during this period — going from the Muslim League to the Samajwadi Party (SP) and finally the Nationalist Congress party (NCP) — his voters always moved with him.

The man who has not lost an election in a quarter of a century is now back with the SP, having quit the NCP after the party handed over his seat to the Congress during seat-sharing talks.

And it is the Congress that is now his biggest threat.

That Congress fared very well here in the Lok Sabha elections. And they’ve picked their Assembly candidate well. Amin Patel (46), a local corporator, is very popular in the area for his work on everything from hospitals to drains.

Meanwhile, the Congress also stands to eat into Bashir Patel’s minority votebank, and this will be a vital concern since 50 per cent of the constituency is now Muslim.

In Bandra West, Congress legislator Baba Siddique (51) was already battling anti-incumbency — his constituency has seen slums and high-rises alike multiply, leaving voters to battle endless traffic-snarls and overcrowding.

Now, added to that is the stress of competing with a very popular — and very young — Khar corporator, Ashish Shelar (38) of the BJP, who won a lot of hearts when he took on and defeated big clubs to save the area’s public open spaces.

With the MNS not fielding a candidate here, Shelar has an even better chance of winning, since the saffron vote will remain undivided.

“These are a sort of unintended consequence of the delimitation,” said analyst Damle. “The upside is that new people and new faces get a real shot at winning. And that’s always a good thing in a democracy.”