Ujjwal Nikam and 
Varsha Gaikwad.
Ujjwal Nikam and Varsha Gaikwad.Illustration: Mandar Pardikar

LS Polls: Clash of surprise picks in Mumbai North Central

Interestingly, neither Nikam nor Gaikwad was the first choice of their respective parties.

MUMBAI: Mumbai North Central Lok Sabha constituency, home to several celebrities and spread across many posh areas including Bandra and Vile Parle, is witnessing a close contest between renowned lawyer Ujjwal Nikam of the BJP and Mumbai Congress president Varsha Gaikwad.

Interestingly, neither Nikam nor Gaikwad was the first choice of their respective parties. The BJP denied ticket to sitting MP Poonam Mahajan and wanted to field its Mumbai city president Ashish Shelar, who declined to contest saying he is not ready to enter national politics. Then Nikam was picked at the last moment.

As for the Congress, it was considering former Maharashtra minister Naseem Khan, who was very keen to contest from the constituency. That Mumbai North Central has around 4 lakh Muslim voters was also a factor favouring his candidacy. However, alliance partner Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT) proposed the name of Varsha Gaikwad as the joint candidate saying Muslim votes alone won’t be enough to win the election.

“If Marathi candidate Varsha Gaikwad is fielded, then Shiv Sena (UBT) will easily transfer its votes to Gaikwad in the fiercely contested battle. The calculation is that there are over 4 lakh Muslims, 1 lakh Christians, 1 lakh Dalits, and a considerable number of Marathi and non-Marathi voters. The BJP won the last two elections because of support from the Shiv Sena. But the BJP does not have it this time; so, it will face an uphill task even though it has a high-profile lawyer as its candidate,” said a senior Shiv Sena (UBT) leader, who did not wish to be named.

According to reports, Gaikwad herself was not expecting to fight from Mumbai North Central: her first preference was Mumbai South Central, the constituency of her late father Eknath Gaikwad. However, Uddhav successfully pushed his party’s candidate Anil Desai for the Mumbai South Central seat.

Nikam is a well known lawyer, having appeared for several high-profile cases including the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist case, 1993 Bombay bomb blast case, Gulshan Kumar case, and the sensational Pramod Mahajan murder case. The BJP hopes his popularity will help, on top of the Modi factor.

“To win, the BJP needs to get Marathi votes in significant numbers. Otherwise, history will repeat like in 2009, when Congress candidate Priya Dutt trounced senior lawyer Mahesh Jethmalani of the BJP in the Mumbai North Central seat by nearly 1,75,000 votes,” said a political observer.

Towards this strategy, the BJP is trying to breach the Sena’s traditional Marathi vote bank by arranging rallies by MNS chief Raj Thackeray.

Also, Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar, who is spearheading the campaign for Nikam at the ground level, has held several meetings with prominent leaders of the Christian community to secure minority votes.

The New Indian Express