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Last Updated: Monday, 26 April, 2004, 13:26 GMT 14:26 UK
Poll boost in India's richest seat
By Zubair Ahmed
BBC correspondent in Bombay

Voter turnout in South Mumbai is traditionally low
The sun rises above the crescent-shaped Arabian Sea bay, and joggers in South Bombay, India's richest constituency, start winding down.

It is time to go home.

But for many, it is time to cast their votes in India's ongoing 14th general election.

It is election day in India's commercial and entertainment capital, Bombay (Mumbai).

Within hours of the polls opening, many pensioners, jogging home, were stopping at polling stations to vote.

Others, like diamond merchant Raju Salla, also turned out to cast their ballot.

'I voted for change'

He walked briskly up Malabar Hill, a neighbourhood dotted with the homes of the rich and powerful, including the chief minister and governor of western Maharashtra state.

"I voted for a change," says Mr Salla.

He believes the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led federal government's feel-good campaign slogan, "India Shining", is an empty one.

A few years ago my household expenditure was 15,000-20,000 rupees. Today, it's 30,000 rupees
Raju Salla
Diamond merchant

"Prices are rising. A few years ago my total household expenditure was 15,000-20,000 rupees ($465). Today, it's 30,000 rupees ($700)," he says.

One of the first voters jogging into a polling centre was Anil Ambani, vice-chairman of India's biggest private business conglomerate, Reliance Group.

"I voted for development," he declared enthusiastically.

A resident of Cuffe Parade in South Bombay, home to some of India's richest and most influential people, Mr Ambani was outside the polling station 30 minutes before voting began.

Such keenness is considered unusual in a curious constituency.

Rich, but apathetic

South Bombay is unofficially the constituency of billionaires. Some of the country's richest business families - the Tatas, Birlas, Goenkas and Ambanis - live here.

But the constituency is also the most apathetic towards elections.

Its average voter turnout has hovered at under 40%, well below the national average.

South Bombay's indifference to the rites of democracy may be one of the reasons Mr Ambani has been leading by example, and exhorting voters to turn out in force.

Another unusually keen voter in the constituency is Anand Mahindra, managing director of car and tractor manufacturer Mahindra and Mahindra.

Anand Mahindra
Anand Mahindra: "Local issues are as important as national ones"

"I look at the candidate and see what he has done or what he could do for the constituency. I think local issues are as important as national issues," he said.

Bombay alone accounts for a quarter of India's total income tax takings. And most of that comes from the South Bombay constituency.

India's National Stock Exchange is here. So is the Bombay Stock Exchange, India's oldest stock market

Economic lifeline

Not surprisingly, prospective parliamentary candidates acknowledge the importance of South Bombay's verdict.

"My constituency is the economic lifeline of the country," says Jaywantiben Mehta, the governing BJP's candidate, who is trying to hold on to her parliamentary seat.

The middle classes don't vote because they feel impotent
Mohan Shahani

But the voters seem to have given up on politicians throwing the country a lifeline.

Mohan Shahani, who cast her vote but admitted she had little hope of real change, said: "They are all corrupt. There is little to choose between candidates.

"The middle classes don't vote because they feel impotent. They feel what can we do to change the tide. They can't. It's money power, muscle power and corruption which has seeped so deep down in our system, it's a pity," she says.

Well-known columnist Anil Dharker believes the middle classes' apathy to the election stems from the perception that they are out-numbered by the slum-dwellers.

"In a typical South Bombay building, there are 40 to 50 residents, but in a slum cluster next door the number could be three or four times more," says Dharkar.

But on Monday morning, many middle class voters were seen casting their votes.

Some of them had their identity cards, but they were upset to find out their names were not on the voters' list.

Mithu Kothari was one of them. She blamed the state government of the Congress Party.

"The only way of stopping us is by taking away our names. Aren't we living in the same address for 30 years?"

Female voters

Bajrang Biyani and his neighbours seemed in a great rush to vote.

But they had just enough time to say: "We have been voting for many years."

He says there are 400 voters in the apartment building he lives in and nearly all of them vote. "They all vote for the BJP."

Mr Biyani is a Gujarati. The Gujaratis are in a majority in several parts of the constituency. They traditionally vote for the BJP and its candidate, Jaywantiben Mehta, also a Gujarati.

Mrs Mehta insists she has the support of all sections of the electorate and crucially, of women.

"The female voter population is nearly 50% and they are with me," she claims.

Mrs Mehta's grip on this rich stronghold is being challenged by a 27-year-old political novice, Milind Deora of the Congress party.

Mr Deora says he is banking on the youth vote and hoping the voters recall his father, who won the seat several times in the past.

India votes 2004: Full in-depth coverage here

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