- After unsuccessfully contesting Lok Sabha polls from Mumbai North constituency, actress Urmila Matondkar recently made some scathing comments against the party’s local leadership.
- Now, workers who interacted with journalists on condition of anonymity suggest they organized a decent campaign. But, it was the actress who created hurdles since day one.
- Govinda was at his career’s peak in 2004 and brought victory for the Congress. He exited gracefully at the end. On the other hand, Urmila did not prove to be a crowd puller. Workers suggest she was not at all courteous during the campaign and was unable to swallow the defeat.
By: Unmesh Gujarathi
Before 15 years, BJP’s Ram Naik was considered as an impenetrable force in Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency. The former minister for petroleum and natural gas in Vajpayee Government contested and won five Lok Sabha elections from the constituency between 1989 and 2004. Besides the Congress party’s local leaders, even some of the emerging leaders within the BJP seemed uncomfortable due to Naik’s dominance in the area. However, his work and relation with people in the constituency made it impossible for anyone to pose a challenge. In such a situation, all the political parties prefer opting for the tried and tested, ‘celebrity’ formula. The Indian National Congress (INC) did the same.
Indians love worshipping a messiah
India is tagged as the largest democracy in the world. However, Indians often prefer finding and worshipping a messiah who they believe can solve all the problems. The person can be from real life or reel life. Thus, several celebrities have managed to win elections and become MP, MLA. Their performance and contribution towards their constituency often remain zero even after winning elections.
The same formula proved successful for the Congress to defeat Ram Naik in Mumbai North Lok Sabha constituency back in 2004. Govinda Ahuja’s star power helped him in winning elections even though he had no prior political or social work background.
The reel-life hero proved to be a ‘giant-killer’ in politics by defeating a five-time winning member of parliament. Later, the film star did very little for his constituency. But anyway, Congress had achieved what it always wanted to do. Then, in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls, the Congress Party managed to retain the seat with Sanjay Nirupam as its candidate.
Nothing is permanent in politics; the BJP once again won the nation’s ‘glamour capital’ seat in 2014 due to the Modi wave. The party’s candidate Gopal Shetty scored a vast margin and improved his hold over the constituency during his five years term. The INC again tried its ‘Govinda pattern’ in 2019.
Nirupam trusted Govinda pattern rather than the local leadership
Sanjay Nirupam seemed unwilling to contest from the same constituency. However, there were others like Nanubhai Sodha, Mahesh Chaturvedi, Upendra Joshi, and Shekhar Vaishnav who were positive and not willing to give up. They believed they could defeat the sitting BJP MP by fighting unanimously.
Mahesh Chaturvedi (Pathak) also happens to be an entrepreneur. He began working in the constituency since 2018. Chaturvedi had started mobilizing workers at grassroots and even held several events to remain under the spotlight. It is said that he had secured former chief minister and the then state Congress President Ashok Chavan’s backing.
Senior party leader Mahesh Chaturvedi was a loyal member of AICC. His financial strength and readiness to spend funds were added advantages. However, at times, even the most eligible aspirants fail to get a ticket.
Urmila Matondkar met Sanjay Nirupam during an event. He was impressed due to her anti-Modi rhetoric, and her views on Modi’s dictatorial style of governance. Nirupam was looking for a famous face who won’t hesitate to speak against Prime Minister.
A few days later, the party’s screening committee meeting took place in Delhi. Chaturvedi’s name was final until the last stage, and even Ashok Chavan had given a green signal.
Nirupam suggested the party should opt for a new glamorous face to attract voters. Perhaps, he thought the tried and tested Govinda pattern would help the party yet again. Thus, he recommended Urmila’s name.
A meeting was held for further discussions between the actress, Sanjay Nirupam, and Milind Deora. Matondkar agreed to contest elections with the condition that she won’t bear any election-related expenses. Nirupam accepted this condition and promised that he would take care of all the costs. The former journalist even secured permission from the then Congress President Rahul Gandhi for the same.
It was expected that the members of district Congress committee, including MLA Aslam Shaikh, district Congress president Ashok Sutrale, Bhushan Patil, Sandesh Kondvilkar, Dr. Ajanta Yadav, Ghanshyam Dubey, and Raju Vyas would be taken into confidence before declaring the candidate. Unfortunately, this did not happen.
Meanwhile, Milind Deora was appointed as the President for Mumbai Region Congress Committee. Urmila Matondkar joined the Congress in the presence of national spokesperson Ranjit Surjewala in Delhi. Milind Deora, Sanjay Nirupam, Bhushan Patil, MLA Aslam Sheikh were present during the event that took place on March 27, 2019.
As there was no time to spare, a quick introductory meeting was held on March 29 outside Bhushan Patil’s office. The regional committee suggested doing the same for boosting the morale of party workers. On the same day, she was declared as the INC’s candidate for the concerned constituency by party officials in Delhi. Put simply; the actress joined the party merely two days before being declared a Lok Sabha candidate.
Surprisingly, Urmila immediately asked the party to release campaign funds for hiring a personal driver, attendant, photographer, and a PR team. Sources suggest she even threatened Sanjay Nirupam that she would rethink about filing nomination in case of a delay in making the necessary arrangements. Nirupam ignored this probable warning. He organized everything for the actress, and she finally filed her nomination form on April 8, 2019.
The local leadership did not keep any stone unturned while campaigning
The regional committee started planning rallies under the leadership of Sanjay Nirupam, district Congress president Ashok Sutrale, MLA Aslam Sheikh, Bhushan Patil, Sandesh Kondwilkar, Dr. Ajanta Yadav, Raju Vyas, Ghanshyam Dubey, and other local leaders.
But, Urmila remained uncooperative and committed to conduct just one public meeting daily instead of three. She recovered all the expenditure from Nirupam and asked Mumbai Congress Working Committee member Kalu Budhelia to pay for her cars hired while campaigning.
The actress has an apartment in Bandra which is far away from the constituency. Thus, she preferred to stay at Goregaon’s West Inn Hotel during the initial stages of the campaign. The committee had to bear the hotel bills. However, the party leaders thought this would give a wrong message to voters. Thus Kalu Budhelia offered his Kandivali West-based luxurious flat to Urmila as her bastion during the campaign period.
The celebrity factor and media management did help the Satya actress to remain in the headlines. The element also helped in keeping the cadre motivated. The local leaders ended up spending money from their pocket to pay up for the expenditure incurred during public meetings.
District committee spent a fortune and organized rallies. Biggies like Sharad Pawar, actor Shatrughan Sinha, Mallikarjun Kharge, the then Congress leaders Harshvardhan Patil, Kripashankar Singh as well as former Chief Ministers Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan participated in the events. Urmila had played no role in organizing these rallies.
The constituency has roughly 18 lakh voters, with around six lakh houses. From publishing copies of manifestoes, stickers, to paying for voters’ lists software and other campaign material, the regional Congress committee paid for everything, including the social media campaigns. Sources pointed out that NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, Dr. Vishwajeet Kadam, and Ashok Chavan had directly contributed funds to Urmila Matondkar. Apart from this, funds were also provided from Delhi. However, nothing reached the local party workers. They kept working with a hope to taste victory.
Loyal party leaders and workers felt betrayed when the party gave the ticket to an individual who has no connection with Congress’s grass-root workers. She had no connection with the party’s policies, and most importantly, the constituency’s voters. But still, the workers supported her unconditionally.
Urmila did not accept the defeat gracefully
Even if being a celebrity is the only criterion, Urmila’s fan following is nowhere near the stardom that Govinda had to offer in 2004. He was a crowd puller, and at the peak of his professional career back then. People were desperate for a glimpse of him. This was not the case when it comes to Urmila during this year’s Lok Sabha polls, and the math went wrong. However, the party workers took all the possible efforts.
In 2019, the party managed to get 2, 41,431 votes, while back in 2014, the then-candidate Sanjay Nirupam scored 2, 17, 442 votes. The reduction in the defeat margin, increased numbers of votes indicate the efforts taken by the grass-root workers during 2019. But what did they get in return for their diligence, Urmila’s resignation and allegations of participating in anti-party activities?
Govinda exited the INC gracefully and had helped the party with victory in 2004. On the other hand, Urmila was not so courteous after facing defeat. She ended up criticizing the workers and individuals who worked selflessly during her campaign. Now, the party is passing through its most challenging phase and cannot afford to use the Govinda pattern. The INC needs to connect and offer opportunities to its true loyalists.
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