Elections 2014 special feature: SoBo lets it fly

Sticks and stones may break their bones; but name calling is all part of the political game

There was some trepidation that the ongoing World T20 final would eat into attendance, but, in the end, there was a good turnout on late Sunday (April 6) evening at Altamount Road’s Meher Apartment building lawn.

Milind Deora, Bala Nandgaonkar, moderator N Gidwani, Meera Sanyal and Arvind Sawant. Pics/Atul Kamble
Milind Deora, Bala Nandgaonkar, moderator N Gidwani, Meera Sanyal and Arvind Sawant. Pics/Atul Kamble

The Altamount Road, Pedder Road, Nepean Sea Road and Carmichael Road resident associations had organized a meeting of four South Mumbai candidates with residents.

Milind Deora with Bala Nandgaonkar
Milind Deora with Bala Nandgaonkar

The four present were Milind Deora (Congress), Bala Nandgaonkar (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena or MNS), Meera Sanyal (Aam Aadmi Party or AAP) and Arvind Sawant (Shiv Sena).

Residents listen as candidates trade agenda and accusations
Residents listen as candidates trade agenda and accusations

The candidates looked a little drained, given that they had finished a big meeting on Sunday morning at CP Tank and then, were on their campaign trail through the day, capitalizing on the holiday to woo the electorate.

Back ‘n’ forth at the meet
Back 'n' forth at the meet

Some of them even sounded as if they needed throat soothing lozenges. As the evening wore on though, election promises and agendas were interspersed with interesting barbs, making for a peppy debate, creative name calling and an interactive session where some questions were glossed over or deflected in you-give-me-questions-I-give-you platitudes or deviations, in classic political style.

Candidates had been given five hot button issues to touch upon: security, corruption, policy on cell phone towers, functioning of Parliament and the fifth, what they intend to do if elected from the S Mumbai constituency. Residents were exhorted to not focus their questions on problems like potholes and sewage as these were the Lok Sabha elections and not municipal elections.

Moderator N Gidwani outlined the session schedule adding with a touch of humour, “In the end, we will have a Q & A session, provided that the candidates still talk to me by then.” Some laughter followed and after that, it was Milind Deora who took the mike saying, “South Mumbai has all of India’s social and economic diversity in it." Milind stressed that he was focused on, “solutions.

Tackling everyday corruption and cutting down layers of bureaucracy through e-governance. Making the govt. smarter and smaller.” He claimed to have been behind the formation of the First Housing Regulator in the State and creating policy towards regulating mobile tower radiation.

Milind stated that the Parliament was, ‘a temple of democracy. Today, we have a parliament paralysis not a policy paralysis. I have never once disrupted Parliament by rushing to the well of the House and my attendance too, has been well above the national average,” stated Milind.

He then launched a broadside at other candidates, asking, “What have they done for S Mumbai?” He took on Meera Sanyal stating that, “last time around too, she (Meera) made lofty promises. She said win or lose, she would work for the people. I am personally disappointed in Meera.

I thought she would be: MIA – Meera in Action, instead she turned out to be MIA – Missing in Action. I love South Mumbai, I do not roam around in a lal batti car, I have never taken advantage of a perk much before Arvind Kejriwal made that fashionable. I am one of you,” he ended to applause.

Next up, was Bala Nandgaonkar of the MNS, who straight up told his audience, “I had come here in 2009, you did not call us after that, try calling us some time in the middle too, not just during election time,” he laughed. Nandgaonkar claimed he worked hard for the people, “My party is only eight years old.

What power do we have? It is you (referring to Milind and the Congress) that has power. You have the power at the State and the Centre. Yet, where is the development? What has happened about the Pedder Road flyover? What happened to the Sea Link of Haji Ali? The Coastal Road that was planned, nothing on that too.”

Nandgaonkar also stated that he and his party stood with the Campa Cola residents, while, "Your Govt. (referring to Milind and the Congress) went in to break their homes.” Nandgaonkar continued his fiery speech, “What have you done for the traffic jams, parking issues? Don’t point fingers at others.”

He added that, “Raj Thackeray and I will make a policy that will benefit Mumbai.” Nandgaonkar also stated that there were a number of different policies with reference to mobile towers leading to confusion adding, “What use are policies when life is in danger? Today, we see towers on hospitals and schools,” he ended.

With the audience now agog, thanks to Nandgaonkar’s fiery speech, AAP’s Meera Sanyal stated as introduction, “I hope the next time I am here, it is as your MP. I believe AAP has changed Indian politics for the better and forever. We have proved that you do not have to be only a film star or a cricketer, even someone with a criminal track record to get into politics.” (cheers).

Sanyal said that their victory was one of ideals and integrity, without money power or muscle and had raised the bar of what people expected from their candidates. Sanyal added that, “Mumbai, our great city is in decline, there are 230 roads that are dug up,” she also cited figures about the poor work record in Parliament and then stressed women’s security and police reforms.

She also said that the, "UPA cannot reduce corruption given their track record.” Meera pointed out that, it was not just cell phone tower policy, “but the problem of the number of illegal cell phone towers” that need to be addressed.

The battle of the Ms ratcheted up as Meera retorted to Milind’s MIA (Missing In Action) barb, saying it was an interesting acronym. “I tell you why I was missing because unlike some MPs I was working for every single day. I have gone into the bastis of this constituency and all I heard there were people saying where is Milind? They asked me: If we vote for you, will you too disappear like Milind? I would say MIA stands for Milind in Absentia.”

For Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant, national security was priority with him saying that he was born and brought up in Sewri, and claimed that when people have nothing to say they bring up new issues to divert attention.

“The nation’s safety is under threat, there is a real problem in the North East, Pakistan and China… today our submarines are burning, our boats are sinking, we have seen incidents after 26/11. There are 25,000 vacancies in the police force, why is your Govt (at Milind) not filling them?”

Sawant then stated that we have never seen, "such a weak PM as the current one" and stated that when “Narendra Modi becomes PM, Pak will understand how to treat India.” Sawant added that even “The USA which was not giving a visa to Modi today is sending their emissaries to meet him.”

He then trained his guns on AAP saying that, if you want a stable Govt, will you vote AAP? Kabhi bhaag jayenge, bhaagne waale nahi chahiye, takraar karne waale aadmi chahiye." (we do not want those who run away but take the battle head on).

He stated Rahul Gandhi never goes to Parliament so how will this country run?” Sawant signed off, “Ek Arvind hai joh ladta hai, aur doosra joh bhaagta hai (one Arvind who fights – he obviously meant himself and the other who runs – he meant Kejriwal), ending that, "this Arvind (himself) stands for the three A’s – Approachable, Accessible and Answerable.”

By now, it was question and answer time, with some verbal attacks, Meera Sanyal was told that her Govt. could not last for 50 days, to which she stated that Arvind Kejriwal resigned on principle. Sanyal brought up the recent violence at the Old Customs House.

Nandgaonkar was asked about the toll booth violence by the MNS where he stated that, ‘we too, are not happy with violence but we were compelled to do agitation after four meetings with the CM. Tell us then, how do we stop the toll, bhooton baatoin se nahi, toh laaton se samajhte hain.”

Suddenly, realizing perhaps this was a prickly issue he deviated, “We will not tolerate women being molested and we will slap somebody who molests our sisters, wouldn’t you do the same?” When asked about the recent problem at Old Customs House, where Shiv Sena and MNS supporters clashed with each other, Nandgaonkar, said, "we have made some mistakes but why did the Collector call the candidates at the same time to file nomination papers? We do not advocate violence but we will not tolerate wrongs,” he ended to a clearly cynical audience.

Meanwhile, Milind in an answer said that all the three parties AAP, MNS, Shiv Sena have somewhat similar methods. "of mobocracy and anarchy and these are things which are highly dangerous.” The Campa Cola question came up again.

Sawant claimed that if and when the party came to power, it would stand with the Campa Cola residents. Sanyal said that the AAP would not, “seek support of the Congress or the BJP in case of inadequate numbers. If not elected to power, we would be a responsible opposition.”

One interesting question was: “now that Imam Bukhari has told Muslims to vote for the Congress, as communalism is a bigger threat than corruption, does it mean that the Congress is corrupt?” It caught the candidates hopping.

Another one was to Shiv Sena’s Sawant who was asked for his personal opinion on why the party wanted to support Section 377 (criminalizing consensual sex between same sex adults) to which Sawant waffled, “Good you asked for a personal opinion.

You are so young to think in that way. Each one has a right to live in his own style as long as it does not harm other people. But when it reflects badly on society one needs to think over it, pay attention and deliberate, we have to see it does not harm our society.” One could almost hear SoBo go, “oh rrrrreally?” to that.

Moderator Gidwani had to close the meeting with a two-minute summation by all candidates, where each of course, appealed to residents to vote for them, Sawant of Shiv Sena told residents to, “vote for the bow and arrow," Sanyal claimed, “AAP will not disappoint you” Nandgaonkar said his office in Lalbaug was “open to the people” while Deora ended, “I will be proud to continue to represent you.”

Evening had turned to night by now and Mumbai’s Millionaires Row was full off Mercedes, BMWs and SUVs nosing out of the venue. AAP supporters were belting out patriotic songs outside the building to some amusement amongst those who were walking out.

Patriotic rhetoric or shrewd political platitudes, the overall message of the meet was that Mumbai’s swish set must forgo their foreign summer holidays. Instead, go to voting booth on April 24. Paris may be calling but heed not, because right now, you're hot if you get the dot.

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