In spite of a tough contest, the Congress candidate has an upper hand as Mumbai North-Central seems to be the safest seat for the party
As she walks briskly in her tennis shoes during a padayatra on a sweltering afternoon, two-term MP Priya Dutt says she has never taken a win for granted. “An election is such a thing that you really cannot predict the result,” says the Congress candidate from Mumbai North-Central.
The constituency is unique, witnessing a clash of political dynasties. Ms. Dutt is the daughter of actor and former Union Minister Sunil Dutt, who won this seat five times. Her adversary now is Poonam Mahajan, daughter of the slain BJP leader Pramod Mahajan. The Aam Aadmi Party has fielded senior lawyer Phiroze Palkhivala, son of jurist Nani Palkhivala. And the Samajwadi Party candidate is Farhan Azmi, son of MLA Abu Asim Azmi.
Yet, Ms. Dutt does have the upper hand. This is seen as the safest seat for the Congress in Mumbai. In 2009, she won by a margin of 1.74 lakh votes, the highest in the city. In the other five constituencies in Mumbai, the victory of Congress-NCP candidates was propelled by Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, which cut into the saffron vote. Ms. Dutt’s was the only constituency where the Raj factor did not matter. Fearing defeat, several Bharatiya Janata Party stalwarts had reportedly refused to contest from here. The BJP finally zeroed in on Ms. Mahajan.
But the battle may not be so easy for Ms. Dutt this time around. She has to contend with anti-incumbency and rebellion from within her party. The SP candidate could cut into the Muslim vote which has traditionally gone to the Congress. Also, the MNS not fielding a candidate here means the saffron vote will remain consolidated. In 2009, the MNS polled 1.32 lakh votes, taking a chunk away from the Opposition Shiv Sena-BJP.
In the run-up to the polls, Congress MLAs Kripashankar Singh and Naseem Khan from the constituency complained of their being sidelined by Ms. Dutt. Mumbai North-Central has a sizeable Muslim and North Indian population, where both politicians have a base. Finally Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan had to intervene. “This issue has been blown out of proportion. I did have differences with both of them. But now, we are working together,” she says.
Shooting back at her opponents who accuse her of being absent from the constituency, Ms. Dutt says it’s her work that got her re-elected in 2009. “I won my first election because of my father. I won the second because of my work. People give you only one chance.”
She will, however, have to deal with the impact of corruption charges against the UPA government at the Centre and the Congress-NCP here. Price rise is also a major grievance among voters.