PM Modi’s self-goal in Mumbai, roadshow leaves locals fuming

What truly angered locals was permission to take the roadshow through Ghatkopar, where a hoarding collapse on Monday killed 16

PM Modi during his roadshow in Mumbai (photo: PTI)
PM Modi during his roadshow in Mumbai (photo: PTI)

Navin Kumar

Mumbaikars are certainly not amused. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow to solicit votes for BJP candidate Mihir Kotecha in the Mumbai Northeast Lok Sabha constituency on Wednesday has been widely criticised.

Roads were blocked for the roadshow and local trains, the city’s lifeline, stopped. Passengers were trapped for hours in metro stations and allowed to leave only once the roadshow ended. People questioned the day and timing of the roadshow, pointing out that permission should have been given on a holiday or Sunday to prevent public harassment.

What incensed locals even more was that the roadshow passed through the area in Ghatkopar where a giant, illegally installed hoarding collapse on Monday following a dust storm and rain killed 16 people. The last two bodies were retrieved early Thursday on morning as the rescue was delayed owing to the roadshow, preventing cranes and other heavy equipment from entering the area.

The timing of the roadshow, during evening rush hours, was also questioned and the prime minister’s failure to condole the deaths and indeed his failure to call on relatives of the deceased, most of them residents of the area, or meet the injured undergoing treatment in a neighbourhood hospital drew critical comments.

Even as the PM and BJP’s insensitivity was criticised, people wondered why the roadshow was held in a constituency where Gujaratis live in sizeable numbers. The BJP candidate is also a Gujarati, and with the Marathi-Gujarati fault lines showing, the PM rushed in to lend a helping hand to Kotecha, it is being said.

The roadshow may have alienated voters instead, fear local BJP leaders. The six Lok Sabha constituencies in Mumbai will see polling on Monday, 20 May, with the BJP and Shiv Sena (Shinde) contesting three seats each. The fallout of the botched roadshow, the party fears, may impact the BJP’s chances in the other constituencies in the metropolis too, adversely affecting Union minister Piyush Goyal’s chances in Mumbai North.

NCP (Pawar) chief Sharad Pawar criticised the roadshow in a city like Mumbai on a weekday. Roadshows in Mumbai can be held only in areas like Vasai, but the intention was to mobilise a particular community in a particular constituency, he said.

The situation could have led to stampedes and it was fortunate that another tragedy was averted. Anger in the city is also directed at Union railway minister Ashwani Vaishnav as well as Goyal, a former railway minister. Neither has done anything to improve the frequency of local trains, or ensure that people do not have to travel in compartments packed like sardines. 

Sanjay Raut of Shiv Sena (UBT) claimed that never before were roads in Mumbai blocked for roadshows and political campaigns. It was inhuman to hold the roadshow in the same area where people were mourning the death of 16 local residents, he added. Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray also weighed in to ask why the roadshow was deemed to be necessary by the prime minister.

Political commentator Rajendra Thorat believes Ghatkopar was chosen for the roadshow in an attempt to stop the division of votes and polarisation of Marathi and Gujarati votes for rival parties. While the loud music, dances and pageants by artistes in colourful dresses drew attention and showcased Marathi and Gujarati culture, the PM could have avoided the roadshow. If he had just met the victims of the hoarding-collapse, he would have earned more goodwill, Rajendra Thorat points out. The roadshow, however, projected the PM as insensitive and may have boomeranged on the party.

The PM merely pays lip service to the people and calls himself pradhan sevak (servant-in-chief), but in the roadshow, he preened like a shahenshah (emperor), fumed an irate Prateek Rane, who was waiting for metro services to resume. Former corporator Rakhi Jadhav felt the roadshow should have been cancelled in view of the tragedy in the locality.

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