Catholics divided, but vow to vote for development
The large Catholic community in the city has traditionally backed the Congress, but this time the members’ loyalties are divided, say political observers. With two major political alliances splitting, Catholics are likely to base their decision on work done by their local candidates irrespective of the party.
Their vote will be a key factor in at least six constituencies in Mumbai, including Bandra West, Kalina and Vile Parle.
In Bandra West, some Catholic groups are with BJP’s Ashish Shelar, but in neighbouring Kalina, Christians are backing Congress leader Kripashankar Singh.
For years, Bandra West has been a Congress bastion; the community helped elect Priya Dutt to Parliament and voted for sitting legislator Baba Siddique in three elections. But this time Catholics, who account account for 11 per cent of the electors, are not sure which party they will vote for.
But some prominent members have played an integral part in Shelar’s campaign. “In 2009, Catholics in Bandra had supported Shelar. He, however, lost by a narrow margin. There is a lot of anger among voters against those who were in power till recently,” said Anil Joseph, a former vice-president of the Bombay Catholic Association.
Shelar – who will face Siddique, Shiv Sena’s Vilas Chavari and Tushar Afale of the MNS – said that he was confident of winning the seat. “I served as a corporator for two terms in the constituency and completed various civic works. In the past two years, I have spent my MLC funds for the development of the area,” he said.
But the Congress leader even refused to consider Shelar as a major rival. “People voted for BJP in May (Lok Sabha elections), but inflation is still high and black money stashed abroad has not been brought back. Voters will not be fooled again, as it was evident in the by-polls. I don’t consider Shelar as my competitor, I am fighting with Chavari,” Siddique said.
He added that prominent Bandra Catholics such as Darrly D’Monte and Cornel Gonsalves were backing him.
In Kalina, Kripashankar will take on BJP’s Amarjit Singh, Sena’s Sanjay Potnis and NCP’s Kaptan Malik. “Some Catholic groups may be supporting BJP elsewhere, but in Kalina, the community is with Congress. We have been working for local residents for the past five years and ensured their problems are addressed,” said Congress corporator Brian Miranda.
Redevelopment of gaothans is a major issues for the community and it will influence members’ decision. “All minorities are with the Congress in Kalina. People from north India who have settled there are also backing me,” Singh said. “I have informed the voters about the work I have done in the area. I have not made any false promises.”
Some Catholics are also contesting from Bandra West and Kalina under the banner of Maharashtra Swaraj Party. But they have found it difficult to drum up support.