Two-time MP Milind Deora has to tackle twin challenges — strong opponents and voter apathy

As the campaign vehicle moved through the narrow lanes of Byculla surrounded by Congress activists, a small-time trader from the area drew the attention of Milind Deora, the party’s candidate from South Mumbai.

“Don’t worry. We know your father. We will be with you,” he said in Gujarati, offering a bouquet to Mr. Deora, who accepted it gleefully. “You must take care of me,” Mr. Deora replied.

Mr. Deora, the Minister of State for Shipping and a two-time MP from South Mumbai, is seeking his third term from a constituency, where less than half the electorate turned out to vote in the last six Lok Sabha elections. The political parties point out that the affluent areas of the constituency have always seen a lower turnout.

“We can only appeal, but can’t force people to vote. I hope it will be different this time. The affluent choose not to vote and prefer only to criticise,” said Mr. Deora.

Shiv Sena candidate Arvind Sawant does not think so. “Even the upper class voters will vote this time and that too against him [Mr. Deora]. The Modi wave will wipe out the Congress,” he said.

Activists are also hoping to improve the voter turnout this year. “The awareness campaigns and the hope to see change will bring in more voters to the polling booths,” said Ashok Rao of the Federation of Churchgate Residents (FCR) from South Mumbai.

While Mr. Deora banks on his image of a representative who takes a stand, often contradicting the party line, he denies being part of Rahul Gandhi’s young brigade. “He has never given me an important administrative responsibility within the party. I am not part of his core group, but I belong to the people and talk for them,” he said.

In a constituency where Marathi and Gujarati votes are distributed in specific pockets and share almost equal importance in terms of numbers, Mr. Deora is facing stiff competition from the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena, the Shiv Sena and the Aam Aadmi Party.

The constituency, before delimitation in 2009, was represented almost alternately in every election by the then Congress candidate and Mr. Deora’s father, Murli Deora, and by BJP candidate Jayavantiben Mehta.

“We win in a constituency like this because of our inclusive politics. We take everyone along,” Mr. Deora told The Hindu.

Brushing aside the talk of inclusive politics, the Sena and the MNS candidates say that voters are more concerned about the lack of development and the issue of corruption.

MNS candidate Bala Nandgaonkar, who surprised everyone by coming second in the 2009 elections, calls out for a “strong” government under Mr. Modi, like the Sena candidate. His boss Raj Thackeray has already announced his support for Mr. Modi.

In 2009, the division of votes between the Sena and the MNS helped Mr. Deora and a Congress source believes that history will be repeated. “Both support Mr. Modi and want votes in his name. It’s good for us,” the source added.

An MNS office-bearer agreed that the possibility of gaining votes from Muslim areas is thin for Mr. Nandgaonkar. “We too are concentrating more on Sewri and Worli areas which are dominated by Marathi voters,” he said.

A former banker and AAP candidate Meera Sanyal, who contested as an Independent in 2009, has concentrated her campaign on slums and Muslim-dominated areas.

Says Mr. Deora: “One thing I have learned from the last two elections is not to trust media surveys. They were always wrong. We will prove them wrong this time too.”


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