Can Congress Star Power Trump BJP’s Invincible Candidate? The Urmila Matondkar Logic

Can Congress Star Power Trump BJP's Invincible Candidate? The Urmila Matondkar Logic
Can Congress Star Power Trump BJP’s Invincible Candidate? The Urmila Matondkar Logic

Mumbai: Political circles in Maharashtra were swept under a certain sense of ambiguity when Congress announced actor Urmila Matondkar as its candidate for Mumbai North constituency; they wondered the rationale behind the move.

Matondkar, a novice to electoral politics, has been pitted against BJP’s Gopal Shetty – a leader with formidable experience of electoral politics. Shetty has barely tasted defeat.

In the 2014 elections, he had defeated former Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam by a whopping 4.46 lakh votes – one of the highest margins in the country.

Political experts said the move showed the Congress shying away from a good fight for the seat. With several other leaders including Sanjay Nirupam, Raj Babbar, Mohammad Azharuddin, having already refused to fight from Mumbai North, the Congress has been trying very hard to find a suitable candidate. With Urmila as the party’s face in the constituency, the Congress either hopes to benefit from star power or blame the inevitable defeat on someone.

“This is an act of desperation. Congress has already conceded defeat. Its leaders ran away from the constituency without giving a fight. They didn’t even have to courage to stand up and fight it out. Now, we don’t consider it a fight at all. It is a cake-walk for us. In fact, there is no competition for us,” Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar told CNN News18.

When asked about the reason for choosing Matondkar, Mumbai Congress president Milind Deora said, “Congress has fielded serious contenders on all seats in Mumbai. Just because someone is an actor does not mean she will not be able to give a good fight to the sitting MP. Congress had wrested the Mumbai North seat in 2004 and 2009. Mumbai North has a sizeable Congress presence to win the seat.”

However, while making these points Deora did not factor in the changes that have occurred now.

In 2004, the then giant-slayer, Govinda had defeated BJP stalwart Ram Naik from the same constituency, but under very different circumstances.

Firstly, earlier the Mumbai North constituency was extended till Vasai-Virar. It had a substantial North Indian population, that voted for Govinda. Second, it helped that Hitendra Thakur of BVA, a strong local leader-cum-goon, had given support to Congress. This time, the delimitation of constituencies has changed the geographical boundaries of the constituency. It extends from Malad to Borivali but does not include Vasai-Virar.

In 2009, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had eaten up Shiv Sena’s votes there, thereby helping Congress win the seat. Nirupam had contested and won from that seat at that year. Today, MNS isn’t contesting the Lok Sabha polls.

When asked about the reasons for the last minute induction in the party, and the candidature, Deora said, “Urmila Matondkar’s political and social conviction is outstanding. Once she starts campaigning she will take Mumbai North by storm. Congress strategy is engaging with all communities. We will cash on the fighting of Sena and BJP and its effect on Mumbai’s development. People of Mumbai are tired of this politics of emotions, language, religion and caste. Mumbai deserves better. Urmila like all congress contestants will take the social, developmental and political message of the party. Our thrust is on getting homes for all deserving Mumbaikars, protection to small and traditional markets and jobs.”

For the BJP, neither the name of the contestant nor the Congress’ level of preparedness is of significance. On the day the Mumbai BJP kick-started it’s campaigning, Shelar said the party strength in the Legislative Assembly and the local corporation had already put it in a comfortable position. “Today, five of the six MLAs in Mumbai North belong to BJP-Shiv Sena. In the 2017 corporation elections too, the maximum number of corporators elected from this area are from BJP,” he said.

Typically, there are six legislative assembly seats in one Lok Sabha constituency. The Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency has Borivali, Dahisar, Magathane, Kandivali East, Charkop and Malad west Assembly constituencies. Of these, only Malad west has an incumbent Congress MLA. Borivali, Dahisar, Kandivali east and Charkop belong to BJP, while Magathane belongs to Shiv Sena.

Apart from being a good MP who has worked for his constituency, Gopal Shetty also banks on the Modi fan base in the Gujarati community which is likely to vote in favour of Narendra Modi.

In short, all odds look stacked against Urmila Matondkar in the Mumbai North Lok Sabha seat. Only the top Congress leadership knows if it wants a miracle through star power, or a safe name to take the defeat in her stride when it stands behind her.

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