Congress sitting MP Sanjay Nirupam is facing a tough contest from BJP's Gopal Shetty in the North Mumbai Lok Sabha constituency, which goes to polls on April 24.
Nirupam, who won the 2009 poll by just over 5,000 votes, is locked in an electoral battle with Shetty, IIM graduate Satish Jain (AAP) and Kamlesh Yadav (SP) in the third phase of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra. Nirupam is confident of retaining his seat, saying he has maintained contact with grassroot party workers and voters in the last five years.
"I have managed to get a DDR (District Deputy Registrar) office and an RTO office in Malad. Due to my efforts the second Metro route was extended from Charkop to Dahisar," he claimed. "I have worked for the development of my constituency through issues like deemed conveyance to model stations and hospital. I plan to complete pending projects like the sports complex, medical college and auditorium if I win the election," he said.
Altogether 21 candidates are in the fray in North Mumbai, which is dominated by Gujaratis and North Indians. It comprises Dahisar, Borivali, Kandivali (East), Charkop and Malad (West) in suburban Mumbai.
In 2009, Nirupam benefited from the anti-Congress votes split between the BJP and MNS. While Nirupam polled 2,55,157, the BJP candidate Ram Naik, a former Union minister, polled 2,49,378 and MNS candidate Shirish Parkar got 1,47,502 votes. AAP nominee Jain speaks of applying "text book management principles" for development of his constituency. A post-graduate from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Bangalore, Jain worked in the financial sector for 18 years in firms including Morgan Stanley and HDFC.
Shetty says he is focusing on development work done by him as a legislator from north Mumbai. "Nirupam has done no work in the constituency and takes credit for work such as constructing roads and toilets, done by local authorities," he alleged.
BJP legislator Yogesh Sagar, who is part of Shetty's poll campaign apparatus, says Nirupam should have raised the issue of rail accidents in the region, in Parliament. "Our focus during the campaign has been on the development work and good governance," he said. "I am sure that the constituency's 17.82 lakh voters will repose their faith in BJP," he added.
On Shetty's charge that he has been an "ineffective MP", Nirupam said, "I do not need a certificate from the BJP about my effectiveness in Parliament. My attendance in the Lok Sabha was 89% (against national average of 76), number of debates taken part is 57 (against national average of 37.90) and number of questions asked was 334 (against national average of 300)."
On allegation by his opponents that he failed to utilise MPLAD funds, Nirupam said, "this is a false allegation, which has been proved by the fund utilisation certificate issued by the collector for five years. Besides traditional methods of campaign, this time around, candidates have also relied on social media to drive home their point. Shetty has also made use of a Narendra Modi lookalike to attract voters. Malad businessman Vikas Mhanate, the Modi lookalike, has participated in road shows for the BJP candidate, who feels confident that the "Modi wave" will propel him to victory.