Congress MP Priya Dutt greets supporters after filing her nomination in Mumbai on April 1
This battle is being fought in the name of what they would call Pater Noster in Latin liturgy — “our father”. Party symbols, individual endeavours, skeletons in family cupboards: yes, they do matter but not as much.
Not even ideology. What matters here is genealogy.
Three of the four main candidates in North-Central Mumbai are offspring of “hallowed” fathers. The fourth is the nephew of a famous uncle.
All four are invoking the “paterfamilias” — late or living — though they have also been battling the downside of legacy, in an election where “dynasty” has increasingly become a dirty word.
Here’s the line-up for the April 24 battle: The Congress has fielded sitting MP Priya Dutt, 47, daughter of the late Bollywood icon Sunil Dutt, and five-time MP from the seat.
The BJP has nominated Poonam Mahajan, 33, daughter of the late Pramod Mahajan who was murdered by his younger brother in 2006.
But it is the Samajwadi Party’s Farhan Azmi, 34, who is Priya’s prime challenger. Farhan, a restaurateur, is the son of the Samajwadi Party’s Mumbai big gun and foot-in-the-mouth man Abu Azmi.
Although seen more in Mumbai’s party circuit than at political meetings, his entry into the arena might split the significant Muslim votes in the constituency that have traditionally gone to Priya whose mother, Bollywood diva Nargis, was a Muslim.
The fourth is a political greenhorn but has a famous surname. Aam Aadmi Party candidate Phiroze Palkhivala, 47, a well-known, city-based lawyer, is the nephew of the late Nani Palkhivala who was an eminent jurist.
| BJP candidate Poonam Mahajan at an election rally in Mumbai; (right) Samajwadi Party candidate Farhan Azmi. (PTI and Fotocorp)
While Priya is a two-time MP from the constituency, Poonam had got a drubbing in the 2009 Maharashtra Assembly elections when she fought on a BJP ticket from Mumbai suburb Ghatkopar West.
Like Poonam, Farhan, the chief of the city’s Samajwadi youth wing, is one election battle old — he had lost to the Shiv Sena’s Rupesh Mhatre in the 2010 by-election for the Bhiwandi East Assembly seat in suburban Mumbai. His father Abu Azmi had won that seat in the 2009 elections but vacated it as he also won from another Assembly constituency in Mumbai.
Apart from first-timer Phiroze, the other three are also fighting the downside of legacy. Priya’s brother, Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt, is marking time in jail under the Arms Act in a 1993 blasts case. If that’s a cross she bears on her shoulders, Poonam’s brother — reality TV star and alleged wife beater Rahul — is the crick in his sister’s neck.
“Poonam and Rahul have had quite a few rows about this. She does not want him seen anywhere near her campaign meetings,” said a Mumbai BJP leader.
If Farhan’s asset is his surname, it’s also a headache. Like Sanjay, Abu Azmi too had been implicated in the 1993 blasts, though he was acquitted after a year in jail as an undertrial.
But Azmi’s comments on women and rape have embarrassed him enough to reject them publicly. The latest was Azmi senior’s thesis on rape.
“Rape is punishable by hanging in Islam. But here, nothing happens to women, only to men. Even the woman is guilty…” Azmi had commented.
A little later, Farhan had tweeted: “Guys as far as I am concerned I have made myself more than clear.hang a rapist a 100 times & give me the duty to do so.I will do it for free.”
Farhan is lucky: his only problem is a dad who loves courting controversy. He is not facing serious internecine battles against party satraps, as Priya and Poonam are.
Poonam, whose uncle — former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Gopinath Munde — tipped the scales in her favour at the last moment, has climbed over the aspiring shoulder of a local builder, Inder Chauhan.
Chauhan was the candidate of choice of Ashish Shelar, the president of the BJP’s Mumbai unit and a member of Team NaMo. “But Munde threatened to cross over to the Shiv Sena if his niece (he is married to Pramod Mahajan’s sister) was denied a ticket,” said a source close to Shelar.
BJP sources in Mumbai say though the Sena has pooled in all their resources to back Poonam, local BJP workers were holding back from campaigning with full force.
Priya, who is battling the huge anti-incumbency factor playing out against her party, faces similar problems. The MP is accused of not keeping most local MLAs in the loop and working with just an elite group of friends and advisers.
The differences blew up to a full-fledged war when the former president of the Mumbai Congress, Kripashankar Singh, refused to campaign for her, as did a few local MLAs. “Priya thinks she can win on the weight of a family name. I wish her all the best,” said Congress MLA Naseem Khan, who is close to Singh.
Phiroze’s problems are a tad different: his surname rings a bell only among a section of the urban middle class. He was chased away when he went campaigning in the Muslim-dominated, low-income group areas of Bandra East recently.
Iftekar Shaikh, a driver with a bank, sums it up. “We are not fools, whosoever be your baap,” says the native of Badaun, Uttar Pradesh. “Their names will get you noticed, but you have to walk alone when you are among people.”