At 33, Poonam Mahajan is the youngest candidate in the country fielded by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for the Lok Sabha election. She will be taking on a formidable sitting MP, Priya Dutt, of the Congress in Mumbai central-north constituency. She had unsuccessfully contested the last assembly election from Ghatkopar. A youth activist with a never-say-die attitude, she has now taken up the challenge of defeating Dutt. Poonam is the daughter of slain BJP leader Pramod Mahajan.
Excerpts from an interview:
There is a general perception that Priya Dutt is a strong candidate. In fact, if there is one constituency the Congress is most confident of retaining in the city, it is Mumbai central-north. Please comment.
I am glad that you used the word 'perception' because it is just that — a perception. The ground reality in my constituency is entirely different. It proves that the perception is totally wrong.
So what is the ground reality, according to you?
The ground reality is that Priya Dutt was not visible at all in the constituency after the last elections. She hardly took part in debates in the Lok Sabha even when issues pertaining to Mumbai came up for discussion. So many issues, like the Shakti Mills gang-rape case and the motormen's strike, found their echo in Parliament, but she really did not voice the concerns of the women of Mumbai in Parliament. Also, she never took up the issue of local trains in which lakhs of people are forced to travel in sub-human conditions daily. She used her funds only for building toilets, didn't bother to improve the infrastructure at railway stations. Monica More would not have lost her hands had there been safety in local trains and tracks. She never talked about the youth policy. Apart from this, the voters are fed up with the UPA government and its corruption. People want change; they want the BJP. They want Narendra Modi to be the next prime minister.
What are you promising your voters?
I promise that I will available to them 24x7... I will take up the issue of slums and ensure that slum dwellers are properly rehabilitated. My constituency has a huge slum population and I am committed to their welfare. The airport slum rehab has not taken off. Not a single flat has been given to the airport project-affected persons. The recent building collapse in Vakola has drawn attention to the problem of dilapidated buildings. I will fight to make homes safe for people to live in.
The Congress government has decided to regularise all slums which have come up till the year 2000. Won't this decision swing slum votes in favour of the Congress?
Everyone knows that this is a pre-election gimmick. Before the last polls too, the Congress had made a similar promise and later said it was a printing mistake in its manifesto. Can anything be more absurd than this? People have seen through this game of 'printing mistakes'. They know that the Congress is not serious about solving the problem of housing. They are not going to allow themselves to be used this time around by the Congress.
Priya Dutt is the daughter of a film personality and her brother, Sanjay, is a top Bollywood personality (even though he is in jail). Does that worry you?
I don't know what fear is. I have never feared anyone in my life. For me, the real superstars are the 17 lakh voters of my constituency. I have faith in them. Also, youth voters are solidly rallying behind me.
Your constituency has a large number of Muslim voters. Given the strong feelings among Muslims against Modi, won't you be at a distinct disadvantage?
I don't think Muslims are against Modi. He talks of working for the welfare of six crore Gujaratis and this includes lakhs of Muslims. Like other sections of society, Muslims too want development and good governance. Modi has given this in Gujarat and he is now readying to work for the betterment of all Indians. I am certain Muslims will also back my party.