Mumbai: The Mumbai South constituency is always closely watched and hotly contested. From its demographic mix to its candidates, this seat has caught the attention of parties and electorate alike.
In the 90s, there was very little to separate the winner from the runner-up in this constituency. In 1996, BJP’s Jayawantiben Mehta defeated Congress’ Murli Deora by 23,000 votes; two years later, Deora got the better of Mehta by 21,000 votes.
It’s three days to go for polling. The Gujarati Jains, who are predominantly engaged in business, usually prefer the BJP. But this time, the late Murli Deora’s son, Milind, is the Congress candidate, and like his father, who had networked his way into the business community, Milind Deora too is wooing them big time.
In 2014, Deora suffered a shock defeat against Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant, who rode the Modi wave.
This time, Deora, who has been recently appointed the state Congress chief, is taking no chances and reaching out to the business community and diamond traders.
And in a rare public endorsement, top industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Uday Kotak have publicly put their weight behind Deora. Deora has taken the line that Shiv Sena is just not equipped to handle issues faced by the business and trader community, such as reforming GST, among others.
Diamond merchant Bharat Shah, for instance, had said in early April that because Deora lost in 2014, the trading community ‘lost a voice’ in the Parliament. The Shiv Sena, aware of Deora’s reach, came up with its own plan. Railway minister Piyush Goyal met business associations such as the Hindustan Chamber of Commerce along with others associations and promised to look into their issues. Sawant too was present.
A subtle attempt has already begun to ensure Gujaratis and Jains do not vote for the Sena. A message on WhatsApp, for instance, talks of how the Shiv Sena threatened the Jains during a Jain festival when the community had lobbied to shut down meat shops in Mumbai.
The constituency has a large percentage of Muslim voters who have traditionally backed the Congress.
It also has a large number of Marathi voters, whom Sawant had gained from, but lost this time with the MNS backing the Congress.
MNS chief Raj Thackeray, at a recent rally in South Mumbai, publicly endorsed the Congress, saying, “The country’s biggest businessman (Mukesh Ambani) is supporting a Congress candidate, urging his supporters to vote for Deora.” Also, a section of Marathi voters, especially the Kolis in Worli koliwada, are upset with the BJP and Sena government for building a coastal road that they believe will impact their livelihood.
In the previous polls, Bala Nandgaonkar of the MNS polled 84,000 votes. With MNS not in the fray this time, this number could probably decide the winner.