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Mumbai Voters Head to Polls with Terror Attack in Mind

  • Linda Blake

Nearly 14 million Mumbai residents are eligible to vote Thursday for the first time since the terror attack on India's commercial capital, last November. Although the city's congested roads, an influx of migrants and access to drinking water are among major concerns, many voters say at the top of their list is security. That has inspired some candidates to call for a unified national security agenda.

There was no shortage of boisterous campaign rallies and political star power in India's financial capital, as Mumbai residents prepared to cast their first vote in a national election since the terror attacks.

Among the visiting political figures - Sonia Gandhi, the head of the Congress Party.

Mrs. Gandhi says Mumbai is the only city which knows how to smile in the face of adversity.

The Congress Party heads the national governing coalition. The main opposition party, the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party), has tried to paint Congress as soft on terrorism, in wake of the attacks here five months ago, in which about 170 people died.

Vijay Surve says voters are entering the polls with security as their main concern. He heads a local branch of the opposition Hinduist right-wing Shiv Sena, allied with the BJP.

"There has been a bomb explosion in our India," he said. "The whole population has been shaken away from their sleep. I can confidently say that the whole course of this election will be decided by this attack."

Surve says he and others braved terrorist gunfire to rescue neighbors, after the lack of a quick response by authorities to the attack.

"We tried calling the cops, tried calling the commanders and the administration, no one responded. Zero. Absolutely zero. The government´s response was completely zero," he said.

Congress Party incumbent member of Parliament Milind Deora defends how the response was handled and says a national security agenda is being put in place.

"It is an attack that has required us - and it has happened - to look at our entire security establishment, from a national level to a local level," said Deora.

The government intends to introduce a investigation agency to centralize national and state-level intelligence, as well as various security forces. The opposition Shiv Sena is campaigning for more autonomy for local police, so immediate action can be taken at the ground level.

The trauma that shook Mumbai has also inspired new, independent candidates to enter the local political arena. Bank executive Meera Sanyal is contesting the South Mumbai parliament seat.

"There is a great sense of angst and emotion about the event itself, but also there is a sense of anger against the government and apathy about government has shown towards critical issues that concern the people," said Sanyal.

Sanyal's major support is said to come from the middle class, which blames endemic corruption in Indian politics for the intelligence lapses during the Mumbai attack.

Although the attack appears to have shaken some eligible voters out of apathy, political analysts here predict they will have little impact - saying that the majority of voters are likely to continue their tradition of casting ballots on the basis of party loyalty, religion or caste.

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