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Cong counting on resentment among mercantile class to reverse fortunes

PTI

Mumbai

The Congress hopes to cash in on resentment among small enterprise owners, who, reports suggest, are still recovering from the twin “shocks” of demonetisation and GST, to win the Mumbai South Lok Sabha seat -– home to the business district of Colaba and the famous bullion market, Zaveri Bazaar.

The party is also counting on the recent endorsement of its candidate and Mumbai unit president Milind Deora by Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, a prominent South Mumbai resident, to win votes of the community.

According to experts, traditional markets for materials like bullion, gems and jewellery, clothes, stainless steel etc are still feeling the “pinch” of demonetisation and “shoddy” implementation of the Goods and Services Tax.

Micro enterprises with borrowings of under Rs 10 lakh are yet to fully recover from the impact of these economic reforms, a report released last month by Transunion Cibil and Sidbi in said.

Deora is pitted against his rival from the 2014 general election, Arvind Sawant of Shiv Sena – a BJP ally. Sawant polled 3,74,609 votes in the last election, defeating Deora by a huge margin of 1,28,564.

Sawant also became the first Shiv Sena MP to be elected from Mumbai South since 1952.

However, Congress polls managers believe that chances of Deora, son of former Union minister Murli Deora, are bright this time, given that traders are upset with the BJP over demonetisation and GST, which restricted flow of cash in the bullion market.

A Congress leader told PTI that Deora is of the view that traditional markets need to thrive and should be protected.

Though the mercantile class has been a traditional supporter of the BJP, in Mumbai South, Deora Senior, a Gujarati, enjoyed an excellent rapport with the community. He had represented the constituency four times: 1984, 1989, 1991 and 1998.

Following in the footsteps of his father, Deora reached out to the mercantile class, besides various other communities.

Last week, Ambani, India’s richest man, endorsed his candidature.

In a video shared by Deora on his Twitter handle, Ambani describes the Congress leader as “the man for South Mumbai”.

Billionaire banker Uday Kotak also backs Deora in the video.

“We hope Ambani’s endorsement brings voters from high-rises to the polling booths,” a former Congress legislator said, referring to Mumbai South’s past record of a low voter turnout.

He claimed that not just the business titans, even the slum-dwellers are vouching for Deora.

Sawant, whose critics claim that he won last time because of the “Modi wave”, said the polls this year are an ideological battle.

“I am raising the issue of unity of the country and national security. Infrastructure upgrade, housing for the poor, redevelopment of textile mill land to generate employment were some of the key issues in my campaigning,” Sawant said.

Mumbai South goes to polls on April 29 along with 16 other Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra.

Of the six assembly segments that are part of this constituency, the Shiv Sena holds Marathi-dominated Worli and Shivdi and the BJP holds the Colaba and the Malabar Hill seats.

The Congress and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen hold the remaining two constituencies, Mumbadevi and Byculla, respectively.

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