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North-Mumbai

The 'hero of politics' and five-times winner at the hustings Ram Naik, takes on the `hero of celluloid' Govinda.
PTI | By Press Trust of India, North-mumbai
UPDATED ON APR 17, 2004 09:04 PM IST

It is a montage of filmi dialogues, charismatic wooing, flashbacks of achievements and sound bytes of political promises that marks the political scene in north-Mumbai as the "hero of politics" and five-times winner at the hustings Ram Naik, takes on the `hero of celluloid' and a first time contestant Govinda in the battle of the ballot.

The political drama in the constituency kickstarted late with Congress taking time to announce its candidate to be pitted against BJP heavyweight and Union Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister, Ram Naik, having elected to Lok Sabha on five occasions-- in 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998 and 1999.

However, with Govinda being announced as the official Congress nominee, the political scene took a dramatic turn, given the penetrating popularity of the `Hero No 1' of the frontbenchers, in various pockets.

With the BJP sounding its bugle loud and clear that Naik, `well-oiled' in the mechanics of politics would prove to be a tough match for Govinda, the veteran of films but wet-behind-the-ears in politics-- the poll-watch in the constituency has got an interesting hue.

Govinda's sensational entry into the political arena, has upset many in BJP. The publicity garnered as the `Virar ka chokra' travelled in a local train (akin a scene straight out of his films as a street-savy protagonist), saw the BJP fuming and alleging violation of poll code.

His subsequent visit to the local temple to seek blessings of the local Goddess, in the presence of Hitendra Thakur, a local don, ruffled some feathers even in Congress camp.

The Congress has chosen to position Govinda as `a son of the soil', going by his humble beginning in far flung suburb of Virar from a modest chawl.

His real-life story of a boy-next door rising to become a Hero in the glittering world of cinema is being used by Congress to create an empathy wave among his over 23 lakh voters in the constituency, which comprises Goregaon, Malad, Kandivli, Borivali, Vasai, Palghar.

Congress has also decided to cash in on the simmering anger among north-Indians following the saffron combine's "Me Mumbaikar" policy. By positioning Govinda as a north-Indian who has made his fortunes in Mumbai, Congress is confident of ensuring a chunk of votes in their favour.

His fluency in Marathi, his past record in funding many local Ganesh mandals during Ganesh Chaturthi, is being tapped by the party in ensuring that his `reel' appeal gets translated into `real' votes for the party.

Not ready to be blinded by the glamour of the star hero, the BJP leader has decided to target the superstar's Achilles' heel--his inexperience in politics and with no background of any social work or political work to boast of.

Being aware of all the demands and problems of the constituency in his over-20 year old experience in the constituency, the media-savvy Naik has been focussing on all his past achievements to resolve these very problems.

The constituency, the largest in Mumbai, is composed of four assembly segments from suburban Mumbai-Goregaon, Malad, Kandivli, Borivali and semi-urban and semi rural Vasai from Thane distict and Palghar segment reserved for tribals with problems ranging from those of metro cities to the problems of small hamlets.

The constituency also comprises a large slum population of over 10 lakh spread from Jogeshwari to Dahisar, a large Dalit population and sizeable cosmopolitan urban voters.

The BJP veteran has been highlighting his success in addressing the burning issue of rail connectivity by ensuring the quadrupling of the Borivli-Virar railway track, laying of the fifth railway line from sururban Santacruz to Borivali and development of terminal facilities at Dahanu.

Naik's claim in getting the Indian Oil Corporation to spend Rs four crore to lay a pipeline to bring piped water to residents of Gorai-Manori and his role in getting the Mahanagar Gas Limited to extend its service upto Dahisar has ensured him a loyal voter base in these far flung suburbs.

The BJP leader's role in pushing through the MUTP project, aimed at connecting Mumbai, his waving off of road tax on diesel for fishermen, has also made him formidable opponent in the constituency. Naik had defeated advocate B A Desai (INC) in 1989, Anupchand Shah (INC) IN 1996, Ram Pandgale (INC) IN 1998 and Chandrakant Ghosalia (INC) in 1999 with a margin varing from 75,000 to over 2.5 lakh votes.

Prior to 1991, the constituency, which was considered to be a strong bastion of the Socialists party, predominantly the Janata Dal, would also see former city JD-S President, Vidya Chavan contesting as an independent candidate this time. Altogether 13 candidates would be contesting the polls here.

BJP is cashing on the predominantly Marathi, Jain and Gujarati which has been its loyal voters. The sizeable Christian population in the coastal areas of Virar and Vasai would also play decisive role especially with the church calling for voting in favour of `secular parties'.

A deterrent to the saffron combine is the overwhelming clout of independent MLA and brother of an underworld don, Hitendra Thakur. A classmate of Govinda, Thakur's open support to the star is being viewed with caution. The `unsolicited support' as perceived by the local congress has miffed them due to Thakur's background and alleged closeness with Naik.

The highlight this year is the shifting of population from south-Mumbai to the suburbs. The rise in voter population in Malad, Kandivli, Borivli and Vasai due to the migration and the settling of newcomers in the past few years have made the BJP a little unsure of their political loyalties, which would be put to test for the first time.

While Naik has decided to opt for a `Ram Rath' to traverse the constituency, the film hero has abandoned his swanky cars to opt for a padyatra and to hold street corner meetings to ensure that personal touch. A crowd puller wherever he goes, the actor has been able to sway the crowds with his beaming smile, a listening ear and his plank of education, transport, health and hygiene.

Govinda, who has abandoned his flamboyance and flashy dresses, for a simple white apparel, has been wooing hearts with a `down-to-earth actor' image with humble beginnings.

Not to be outdone by his rival, Naik has chosen to meet the disgruntled fisherfolks, upset over recent encroachements in their territory, the christian population under the sway of the church and people of far flung Palghar areas to enrich his voter bank.

As the political titans take on the big screen titans, political observers have decided to watch and wait to find out who really wins the tag of `Hero Number one' at the hustings.

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