For the first time, the Dutt legacy is set to face stiff competition from Poonam Mahajan, BJP candidate and daughter of late Pramod Mahajan, besides Samajwadi Party's Farhan Azmi aiming to grab a large chunk of four lakh Muslim and 2.5 lakh North Indian votes in the constituency, political observers said.
More than Congress, it was Sunil Dutt who held sway in the constituency for several years ever since he strode into political waters in 1984. While BJP had no cadre as Dutt's victory was a forgone conclusion, they said. "All the MLAs and corporators would be loyal to Sunil Dutt and there was a time when along with Dutt, all six Assembly segments would have Congress MLAs and also sizable corporators," observers pointed out.
But, according to them, the situation had changed now. "The anti-incumbency factor is massive. Priya Dutt has no local support of MLAs. Kurla MLA Mohammed Arif Naseem Khan and Kalina MLA Kripashankar Singh were conspicuous by their absence when Priya filed her nominations. Apart from Bandra west MLA Baba Siddique and Vile Parle legislator Krishna Hegde, Priya has no support from the local Congress cadre," sources said.
Whereas, BJP has fielded Poonam Mahajan, who has been active in politics for quite some time. According to a BJP office-bearer from the constituency, "In 2009, the BJP morale was low. Lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani was new to politics. But, Poonam is a good choice. There is support for Narendra Modi as the prime ministerial candidate and the local cadre is active," he said. BJP sources said Poonam belonged to the anti-Vinod Tawde camp.
Tawde, who hails from Mumbai North Central, is Leader of Opposition in Maharashtra Legislative Council and an emerging leader in state politics.
He is considered rival of Poonam's uncle Gopinath Munde. "Her election is being managed by former corporator Parag Alwani, who is close to Tawde. All factions of the state BJP have united in support of Poonam," sources said.
Compared to 47-year-old Priya, Poonam (33) is seen as a good orator, understands issues well and gels easily with people. BJP workers feel that division of votes among Muslims and North Indians from the constituency will benefit Poonam. "Last time MNS bagged 1.32 lakh votes.
Our defeat margin was 1.75 lakh. Now, there is no MNS and it remains to be seen how much votes in favour of Priya are split because of Farhan," BJP sources said. Vijay Shinde, an IT professional residing in Kalina feels Priya Dutt benefited largely because of her father's goodwill among the poor and downtrodden.
"But Priya is seen by people as inaccessible after getting elected. We have not heard anything from her after elections," he said.
Another voter from Bandra, Sheetal Singh said Priya has been available to people who go to her for help. However, BJP sources said during previous two elections, Priya took her victory for granted and never ventured out much to campaign.
But, now she is undertaking padyatras and chowkie meetings. Farhan Azmi believes Muslims and North Indians will vote for him because Priya Dutt "has done nothing" for the poor people during her two tenures.
He is campaigning hard in Chandivali, Kurla and Kalina. Krishna Hedge, the MLA from Vile Parle, said there is no infighting within the Congress and all are supporting Priya. "We will do well," he said.
Political observers are wondering if Priya's victory margin will be reduced while BJP feels a "shock" result can be expected.
However, the unease in the Congress over Farhan's candidature was visible as Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan himself called SP leader Abu Asim Azmi and appealed to him to withdraw Farhan's candidature.