The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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B-school dreams vs homespun charm

Mumbai, April 22: Jaywantiben Mehta and Milind Deora make unlikely adversaries.

She is happy in her cotton saris and chappals, often lopsided from overuse. He is comfortable in his designer clothes — though he is getting used to khadi now — and at home in slightly clipped English that comes from prolonged stays abroad and a stint doing business management at Boston.

Mumbai South — the address everybody, from politicians to businessmen, filmstars to diplomats, covets — is keenly watching the contest. Residents are as eager about the election as they are amused about the priorities and promises of the warring netas.

At 27, the young and dashing Milind has stars in his eyes, proclaiming to whoever is willing to listen that Mumbai can metamorphose into Shanghai. And that it will be for the greater common good. “The problem is that we fear to dream,” he says earnestly, “we fear to translate our vision into reality. We have to say that we can do it.’’

Son of senior Congress leader Murli Deora, Milind believes in the business school dictum of an organised outlook being the key to success. If asked for a favourite phrase, he would most likely say: “Clear the cobwebs.”

The Congress, unable to reach a consensus on a candidate strong enough to take on Jaywantiben, had a brainwave — with Murli as catalyst — and cast Milind in the fray, hoping to defeat age with youth, experience with vigour, familiarity with freshness. Congress workers and Murli, who has won and lost the prestigious seat in the past, feel the experiment might just click.

Jaywantiben remains unruffled. At 65, she is not about get a rush of nerves because of an “upstart”. The sitting MP, known to all as Bhuleshwar ki Bhavani, is a weapon the BJP is sure of.

Unlike the Boston-educated Milind, Jaywantiben just managed to pass her SSC from an unheralded school in Aurangabad. A politician for 35 years, Bhuleshwar’s Bhavani isn’t interested in Shanghai’s shine. “There has to be food in the stomach first and a job to hold on to,” she says in that easy way of weathered politicians. “We need stability and experience, not experiment.”

Those watching the contest say the iron lady will quell her fledgling opponent. “She has a following in the middle and lower middle segment and the small traders will be out in large numbers. Milind still has to create a base for himself. There is still that bit of road he has to traverse,” said Aniket Mishra, a college teacher and potential voter in Mumbai South.

Then there is ben’s own brand of charm. Jaywantiben is perhaps the only MP who refuses to have a security detail around her. She will not have gun-toting men as bodyguards. “It is disconcerting,” she says as she goes around doing her shopping and bargaining with shopkeepers in the narrow, congested lanes of Bhuleshwar.

“Shopping is good in Bhuleshwar because it is cheap,” she says, explaining why she sticks to the busy and crowded Gujarati locality full of all kinds of trades and shops for her daily subji hunting.

Aminbhai Balubhai Patel, a businessman at Bhuleshwar, says those rooting for Milind may not vote for him. “He (Milind) is popular with the college students, the business tycoons and the executives. But tell me, how many of these people will come down from their offices in Marine Lines, Cuffe Parade and Nariman Point and head towards the polling booth. That should be an area of worry for the young boy. Profile sahi hai, lekin galat bhi hai.’’

Milind might just have to wait a bit before he changes the face of Mumbai, the way Rudy Guilani, his favourite politician, did in New York.

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