Urmila Matondkar is the Congress’s sacrificial lamb in Mumbai North LS seat

In view of the campaigning of last two weeks, I would like to revise my assessment about Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency. My view on this fight now is that Urmila Matondkar could lose by a margin of more than five lakh votes. She has made stupid comments trying to indicate that the country is facing a climate of intolerance. This line might work in Lutyens Delhi, but would not work in Mumbai. This seems to be an attempt to consolidate the remnants of the Congress vote and try to win the yuppie first time voters and ensure that Congress do not lose deposit in Mumbai North.

Priya Dutt in her interview has already torpedoed whatever chances of a fight Congress and Urmila had. She accepted (what was anyways public information in Mumbai North) that the Congress party and it’s leaders were scared by Sanjay Nirupam’s record defeat margin of 4.47 lakh votes of 2014. No leader dared to put his / her hat in the ring. Congress tried offering the Mumbai North seat to allies like NCP and Samajwadi party. These parties of course refused. Congress then approached Urmila who “gracefully accepted the challenge” in the words of Priya Dutt who added that “we would not give up without a fight”. Such words by a politician mean that this seat is a lost cause and Urmila has been made a sacrificial lamb by the Congress party. Let me get into the history of Mumbai North and also explain why the Congress has zero chances of winning this time.

Mumbai North seat encompassed a huge geographical area from Goregaon to Palghar prior to the delimitation exercise of 2008. Ram Naik (ex cabinet minister and current governer of Uttar Pradesh) was a 5 term MP from this seat. Congress played a smart move in 2004 to dislodge Ram Naik, by making actor Govinda as their candidate. Govinda was in the prime of his career then and Ram Naik had gathered considerable anti incumbency. Plus an important factor was that Govinda was called ” Virar ka chokra” having lived there in his pre film career days. Vasai-Virar was part of Mumbai North then. The ploy worked and Govinda proved a giant killer winning with a margin of 48,271 votes. Though Govinda led in four out of the six assembly segments, his margin of 46,000 in Vasai assembly constituency made all the difference.

Post delimitation of 2008, the Mumbai North Lok Sabha was geographically limited from Malad to Dahisar. Congress threw Govinda out like a fly out of milk. Sanjay Nirupam tried his luck and emerged victorious with a slender margin of 5779 votes. Nirupam could become a MP because of the spectacular performance of MNS in 2009. MNS candidate got 1.47 lakh votes. BJP suffered a double whammy as Marathi voters largely supported MNS while the Hindi speaking voters supported the Congress. BJP got badly decimated in Mumbai due to the MNS wave.

Things changed rapidly in 2013 post Narendra Modi’s elevation as the PM candidate of BJP led NDA. Raj Thackeray had failed to build his party in the meanwhile and the mood of the country was against the UPA. Voters across the country decided to give a chance to Narendra Modi and Mumbai North was no exception. Ram Naik announced that he would retire from electoral politics and the new candidate chosen was the sitting MLA from Borivali assembly constituency Gopal Shetty.

BJP North Mumbai MP Gopal Shetty

Shetty had a very good image in Borivali and aided by the pro Modi wave Shetty bagged 70% of the total votes and defeated Sanjay Nirupam by a record margin of 4.46 lakh votes (highest victory margin in Maharashtra and among the topmost victory margins across the country). Sanjay Nirupam was scarred by the humungous defeat and was in shock for about three months. Below are the figures for LS 2014,

Mumbai North LS 2014 Votes

The assembly elections of 2014 had BJP winning four assembly seats, Sena one and Congress one seat (Malad assembly narrowly by 2500 votes) in the Mumbai North LS seat. If we extrapolate the results of the assembly to Lok Sabha the figures come to the following,

Mumbai North NDA VS 2014 Assembly Split

With the non-contest in Mumbai North in 2019, it is likely that Gopal Shetty would better his victory margin to 5 lakh plus in 2019. Let me explain why I feel so,

  • Gopal Shetty has been a multi term corporator and MLA from Borivali assembly constituency. He had got 80% of total votes polled in 2014 and had a vote margin of 1.13 lakh over Sanjay Nirupam. He has a good reputation in Borivali with respect to the work done over the years. He is known as the “garden samrat” as he has built many public parks and gardens in Borivali.
  • Gopal Shetty has a 100% attendance record in Lok Sabha in the last five years. He had given Rs. 2 crore from his MLPAD towards providing facilities in the suburban railway stations falling in Mumbai North constituency. Shetty can speak Marathi and Gujarati along with his native language Tulu and has good relations with all communities. He is popular with the middle class and more popular in the slums. As a MP he has been able to work in the other assembly segments of Mumbai North and able to network with a large proportion of voters.
  • Though he is educated only till Std 8th but he has more knowledge about how to develop his constituency than an IIT educated Kejriwal. He has worked to build broadr roads in his constituency and worked especially to remove encroachments near railway stations. Shetty is thus a very formidable opponent. This was the reason no Congress leader was ready to fight from Mumbai North.
  • BJP is also in a stong position in Mumbai North as lot of infrastructure work is happening or is planned in this constituency. Two metro lines run from Dahisar to Andheri (Line 7 and 2A) and pass through all the assembly segments of this constituency. The metro lines are expected to be functional by June 2020. Also the coastal road planned from Nariman Point will terminate in Kandivali. Lot of office goers use the local trains to travel south towards Churchgate. The metros and coastal road are expected to ease travel a lot in the coming years.
  • BJP has a extremely strong trio of Narendra Modi (Prime Minister) – Devendra Fadnavis (Chief Minister) – Gopal Shetty (MP) who will act as strong vote magnets for the party.
  • Congress erred by selecting ex actress Urmila Matondkar as their candidate. She has not acted in movies for a few years and was never involved in politics in any capacity. The experiment with Govinda is unlikely to be replicated in 2019. It would be interesting to see if Congress keep her in the loop after the loss here.
  • Urmila tried to spew the Congress narrative of intolerance and undeclared emergency. But this narrative will rather backfire in Mumbai where BJP’s ally Shiv Sena openly swears by Hindutva. Also Maharashtra’s history is such that this false narrative on intolerance will not work here.
  • Congress should have fielded a young leader in this constituency. Though the contest is a sure loss, but blooding a young leader could have given them an established leader in the future.
  • The demographics of Mumbai North is such that approx 80% of the population consisting of Marathis, Gujaratis, Rajasthanis/ Marwaris, Kannadigas, Hindi speaking people along with Christian and Muslim minorities (in some areas like Borivali and Malad), supports BJP. Sena also has strength in Dahisar and Magathane assembly segments.

Thus this contest has been decided even before a single vote has been cast (voting is on 29th April in Mumbai city). Urmila Matondkar’s campaign provides some headlines for the media but she is not even in the race.

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