From residential skyscrapers to the villas of the super-rich to the squalor of slums and starkness of pavement shacks, campaigning in India's business and entertainment hub is a nightmare for any candidate in any election - be it municipal, assembly or national. The six Lok Sabha constituencies in Mumbai will go to the polls April 24.
However, each constituency presents its own shocking contradictions - ranging from skyscrapers that houses multi-billionaire industrialists to the classy and luxurious bungalows of film stars to the dirt and filth of the slum pockets right next door. But all of these co-exist in peaceful and ironic harmony.
Industrialists and executives of mega-companies or Bollywood stars step out of their posh houses to be driven in vehicles by a simple, semi-literate driver probably living in a nearby slum where he must daily contend with long queues at common toilets and water taps. The 'aam janata', meanwhile, spends several hours in crowded suburban trains commuting to and from offices and homes, either in another part of Mumbai or in the suburbs of Thane and Raigad, the adjoining districts.
The basic difference in the lifestyles of people in the city spread across just 425 sq km makes it virtually impossible for political parties and candidates to effectively address issues of common interest to the electorate. "If we speak about mega-infrastructure projects, the middle and lower middle-class are not interested; they demand improvements in the basics. If we address that, then the upper classes and rich are not interested!" an aide to Mumbai North candidate Sanjay Nirupam told IANS.
Ditto is the situation with the election manifestos, with political parties trying to discover issues that could ignite common interest among all sections of the electorate. Then, there are also specific issues of slums vis-a-vis urbanisation, with slum-dwellers demanding improvement in their living conditions, rehabilitation to cheaper and better accommodation with all amenities and better commuting conditions.
"When we discuss the huge projects that are changing Mumbai like the country's first sea link or Monorail or double-decker flyover, the swanky new airport terminal and the upcoming Metro and sea-plane services, the disinterested reply is 'These are for the rich, what about us?'" a campaign aide to Congress MP Gurudas Kamat in Mumbai North West told IANS.
Attempting to get around these diametrically opposite situations, most candidates play safe and focus on issues that make sense to the localised electorate. They speak of development in upper class areas and assure basic improvements in the slum pockets. However, the primary issues that concern a vast majority of ordinary Mumbaikars are common - improving slums with better quality housing, water supply and sewage systems, efficient public transport and enhanced comfort in trains and more open spaces like gardens for relaxation with families. There are some who even raise the issue of mosquitoes!
"The issue of low-cost, affordable housing for Mumbaikars needs to be seriously addressed at various levels. Give faster clearance for slum rehabilitation and redevelopment projects, and encourage more housing societies by giving them priority allotment of government land for construction. Such measures can resolve the housing problem in less than a decade," realtor P. Desai from Vile Parle told IANS. Candidates have also to contend with community-specific issues. Dalits, minorities, fisher folk, tribals and migrants, each section has its own big and small requirements.
"We have to delicately balance all these significant sections of society - the ultra rich, affluent, middle class, lower middle class, poor and homeless," a Mumbai Congress office-bearer told IANS, requesting not to be identified. Given the problems, Mumbai will always remain a challenge for all leaders fighting for voters' attention.
In the current election, there are 116 candidates in the fray for the Mumbai North, Mumbai North West, Mumbai North Central, Mumbai South Central, Mumbai South and Mumbai North East seats.