This one city voting today has more people and money at stake than most others in India
- Mumbai, India’s financial capital, will be going to the polls today during the fourth phase of the Indian Parliamentary election.
- Out of Maharashtra’s 48 constituencies, 12 fall under the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) and 6 are directly in Mumbai.
- The city is infamous for its low voter turnout even though it did witness a 10% increase during the last Indian general election in 2014.
For a little over a year now, nearly all of the city is covered in a cloud of dust. Aside from the regular pollution, a spate of infrastructure projects like metro rail construction have been initiated by the incumbent coalition led by the BJP.
There is a lot of buzz around elections in Mumbai, which accounts for 1% of India’s population according to Census 2011. The city’s two landmarks, Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) and the National Stock Exchange (NSE), will remain shut as the city goes to the polls during the fourth phase of the Indian
However, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR), which includes 12 of Maharashtra’s 48 constituencies, is infamous for low voter turnout — although, it did witness a 10% increase in 2014 to 52.66% from 41.40% in 2009.
It is generally believed that the average Mumbaikar, as the citizens call themselves, would rather drive out of the city for the long weekend than stay back for voting. The city’s searing summer sun makes the idea of standing in queues much less compelling.
Low percentage has always been a matter of concern. It has been observed that there is poor voting in urban areas compared to rural areas. However, this needs to change this time. Mumbai is the commercial capital of India. We have created an environment, so voters can vote without fear.
Those well-off, residing in growing clusters of high rises in South Mumbai, or SoBo as it is sometimes called, have little to complain about beyond bureaucracy, bad roads, and incessant traffic.
There are barely any power cuts in the city. Most people even in the relatively less privileged middle class enjoy running water.
However, for every one of those in Mumbai’s towering glory, there are thousands of people strewn, along the long banks of three sprawling highways heading north, in descending order of privilege — in some cases the loss of privilege is just perceived — based on their distance from SoBo.
From the suburban buildings signifying various social ranks, down to the seemingly-endless shadowy slums, issues span from unemployment and insufficient salaries, to unaffordable rents and leaky roofs, to water scarcity and a crumbling state infrastructure that has been, at times, fatal.
Yet, most Mumbaikars don’t vote. Ajit Ranade, one of the cofounders of Association of Democratic Reforms, told the Hindu, “Low voter awareness, voters’ apathy, agnosticism — when the candidate on the ballot does not excite or motivate the voter— and lack of registration in the young category and first-time voters are the reasons for low voter turnout.”
This time, some voters in South Mumbai may go to the poll booths but rather than vote between Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant or Congress’ Milind Murli Deora, their ballot will read NOTA (none of the above). The citizens in the area claim that there hasn’t been any development in their region over the past 24 years. These voters are people who live in the shadows of some of the country’s richest, including the family of Mukesh Ambani.
Chaos and colour
Of the six constituencies in Mumbai, the most coveted seat is the one in Mumbai North Central where 27 candidates are going to be battling for the crown. Running through the middle of this constituency is the western express highway, one of the country’s widest roads that is choked by traffic day in and day out.
To the left of the highway is Bandra, home to many a celebrity. To the right of the same highway are areas like Kurla — once labeled the ‘dirtiest ward in the city’ — and Chandivali which are home to large communities living in slums.
The political heavyweights in the fight for Mumbai North Central are Priya Dutt, the Congress candidate and, the incumbent, BJP’s Poonam Mahajan — both from political legacies. The former is the daughter of the late actor turned politician, Sunil Dutt, and the latter is BJP politician Pramod Mahajan’s daughter. Both Sunil Dutt and Pramod Mahan were iconic leaders in their own right who have left behind a legacy that has fueled their families’ political ambitions.
One of the highlights of this election in Bandra is the recognition of sexual minorities as a politically important segment. Priya Dutt and Congress member, Harrish Iyer — who is also India’s first openly gay politician — met with members of the LGBT community to discuss bringing their issues into mainstream politics.
The country’s biggest financial hub is also home to Bollywood.As film careers fade, some of the actors jump into politics. The star-turned-politician creating the most buzz is Congress’ candidate for the Mumbai North Seat is Urmila Matondkar — a former actress — who will be going up against Gopal Shetty, representing the Bharatiya Janata Party, who won by a landslide 540,000 votes against his opponent in 2014.
Much like the rest of India, Mumbai has seen a spike in communal rhetoric in recent years. Shetty, for instance, has been under the gun for his controversial comments around farmer suicides and Christianity — and he has criminal charges against him including corruption — this is will be Matondar’s first foray into politics who has promised to push slum redevelopment projects to improve the quality of housing.
In Mumbai North Central, which is prone to debilitating floods, the Mithi river that is now made up 100% of sewage remains an election issue one more time.
Then again, floods, unemployment, creaky infrastructure, choked roads and lungs have been among the constant concerns in India’s city of dreams. Not enough people vote, and not enough politicians care to fix the issues.
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