India's billionaires and celebrities join slum dwellers at the polls in Mumbai

Bollywood actress Urmila Matondkar, who recently joined India's main opposition Congress party, gestures during her election campaign rally in Mumbai, India, on April 11, 2019.
Bollywood actress Urmila Matondkar, who recently joined India's main opposition Congress party, gestures during her election campaign rally in Mumbai, India, on April 11, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG) - India's financial capital goes to the polls on Monday (April 29) with billionaires, celebrities and slum dwellers among those lining up to elect lawmakers they hope will fix Mumbai's crumbling and stretched infrastructure.

Elections in the city - home to Bollywood stars as well as seven of India's 19 richest people including Mr Mukesh Ambani and Mr Uday Kotak - often come with a touch of glamour, and this year is no different.

Actor Sanjay Dutt joined his sister and two-time former Congress lawmaker Priya Dutt on the campaign trail as she seeks to reclaim a seat she lost in 2014, while actress Urmila Matondkar, also from the opposition Congress party, is making her electoral debut.

Both are trying to contain Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and ally Shiv Sena, which together won all six seats in the city in 2014.

For millions of Mumbai voters, the elections again put a spotlight on the city's perennial problems of overcrowding, unsafe infrastructure, traffic congestion and inadequate housing.

Ms Dutt is challenging the ruling BJP's sitting Member of Parliament Poonam Mahajan to reclaim the Mumbai North Central seat.

In the city's south, the fight will be between regional party Shiv Sena's Arvind Sawant and Congress' Milind Deora, a former federal minister.

 
 
 
 

Mr Deora has been endorsed by two prominent billionaires - Mr Ambani, Asia's richest man, and Mr Kotak, the continent's richest banker. However, Mr Ambani's son was in the audience last Friday listening to the prime minister predict a victory for his alliance.

BJP supporters streamed into a ground at the heart of Mumbai's financial district on Friday, some singing "Yes, I too am a watchman", along with the lyrics blasting from loudspeakers that referred to Mr Modi's characterisation of himself as a watchman for the nation, guarding against terrorists and corruption.

The prime minister avoided references to Bollywood in his speech, though he has associated with movie stars on social media and recently did an interview with a famous actor. His praise for drivers of Mumbai's black and white taxis drew a warm response from the crowd.

India's largest conglomerates, including Reliance Industries and the Tata Group, its two main stock markets, and the Hindi film industry are all housed in Mumbai.

Billionaires who call it home include Mr Ambani and Mr Kumar Mangalam Birla, cricketer Sachin Tendulkar and Bollywood superstars Amitabh Bachchan and Shah Rukh Khan. Slums can often be found nestled close to the homes of its rich and famous.

Still, the city's rising affluence is slowly transforming its skyline with slums, old buildings and industrial areas making way for glass-and-steel high rises and neighbourhoods peppered with upmarket bars and restaurants.

Residential townships have sprung up and much-needed infrastructure, such as a new, rapid transit metro, are being put in place.

Including Mumbai, 17 constituencies in the state of Maharashtra will vote on Monday, along with 55 more across the country. Over 128 million voters will decide the political fate of 961 candidates in this fourth of seven days of voting.