Mumbai: The sudden demise of Gurudas Kamat, former union minister and senior party leader, will be a massive blow to the Congress, especially when the party needs candidates with winnability in order to regain Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai. The party suffered a virtual rout in the 2014 general election. Kamat’s stronghold was the Mumbai North East constituency, which he had won four times. Later, he represented Mumbai North East in 2009 and lost to Shiv Sena’s Gajanan Kirtikar in 2014. Though several names are being discussed in political circles, it would be premature to name an alternative to Kamat.
He was a five-time Member of Parliament (MP). He had represented Mumbai North East constituency four times, which covers the area from Mulund to Mankhurd, including Vikhroli and Ghatkopar. He won the election in 1984, 1991, 1998 and in 2004. In 2009, this seat was given to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Kamat was shifted to the Mumbai North West constituency. It had remained a Congress bastion due to the charisma of actor Sunil Dutt. From the time of Dutt’s inception into the Congress in 1984, until his death in 2005, he retained this constituency, except for the 1996 and 1998 elections which were won by the Shiv Sena’s Madhukar Sarpotdar. Priya Dutt, his daughter won the by-election.
Mumbai North West constituency covers the area from Andheri to Jogeshwari (E), Dindoshi, Goregaon and Versova. Kamat won this seat in 2009 but lost it to Gajanan Kirtikar in 2014. According to Mahesh Malik, a close confidant of Kamat, he had started meeting people immediately after the election. However, he was not happy with the working style of Sanjay Nirupam, president of Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC). Nirupam had neglected Kamat, not giving him or his supporters any position in the MRCC. Further, he denied a ticket to Kamat’s group in the 2017 Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation election (BMC).
A senior Congress leader said the party will need to find an alternative to Kamat. “There are some names doing the rounds, including those of Suresh Shetty and Mohamad Arif Naseem Khan, former ministers in the Congress-NCP regime. MRCC president Nirupam and former minister Kripa Shankar Singh might be possibilities,” said the leader. Actor and Congress leader Raj Babbar is likely to be the dark horse, as a resident of the North West constituency. “Babbar may also be the choice of Rahul Gandhi, party president,” said the leader.
Shiv Sena insiders claim Kirtikar is not likely to be the Sena’s candidate this time. “Kirtikar has health issues. His son Amol has started poll preparations to contest the assembly election. Amol is from the Aaditya camp and he will be given a ticket. Hence, the party must now find an alternative,” claimed a Sena leader. “As of today, it seems the Congress and NCP will have a pre-poll alliance and Mumbai North West will be shared with the Congress, as per the earlier formula of seat-sharing. On the other hand, the BJP and the Sena will probably contest LS polls separately. In such a situation, for the Congress, the candidate must be strong with money power,’ said the Congress leader.
Kamat died on Wednesday morning in New Delhi, which was a shock to the party. According to MRCC general secretary Mahesh Malik, Kamat had seemed fine until Tuesday. “He was scheduled to reach in the afternoon and I had to receive him at the airport. He had to visit a few Muslim partyworkers’ homes to greet them for ‘Eid’. When I learnt about his death in the morning, I was shocked. He was fit and showed no sign of stress. But he succumbed to his first heart attack,’ said Malik.