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    Ram Naik neglected constituency: Govinda

    [Interview by Marcellus D]
    Saturday, April 24, 2004
    He is a 41-year-old chubby, middle-aged man who would rather wear his trademark white shoes and purple shirts but cant do so as he takes on Petroleum Minister Ram Naik in the North Mumbai constituency.

    But Govinda doesnt seem to mind. He has taken to the politicians garb of white shirt and white trousers as he took to greasepaint not very long ago - for all of 125 films.

    And it doesnt really matter to him that Naik has won the seat five times.

    "He has neglected the constituency," Govinda retorts.

    Govinda is careful to portray the simpleton image he oozes on screen, and speaks to the voters in a language they very well understand.

    "He has a natural charisma and people just love him," says his elder brother Kirti Kumar. The star delivers his speeches in Hindi and switches with ease to Marathi, much to the delight of his audiences.

    Were you hesitant to abandon your screen image?

    People have identified me with a particular type of image and why should I give it up? My dancing has invited comparisons with John Travolta and Elvis Presley and my films have offered entertainment to the lower middle classes. I am a common man, and in my new avtar, people can identity with me.

    Why did you join politics?

    My mother, Nirmala Devi, was a thumri singer. She had always backed the Congress. Sonia Gandhi invited me to join the party. (Nirmala Devi was a highly respected figure in the Virar suburb where Govinda grew up. The locals still recall how she struggled to bring up her two sons Kirti and Govinda).

    What do you think is the biggest problem your constituents face?

    They face many problems. There is illegal construction, corruption, chaotic traffic in the absence of an overbridge between Virar East and West, and perennial water shortage.

    What do you think are Ram Naik's shortcomings?

    I do not want to get personal. Ram Naik is a father figure.

    But is Ram Naik not a formidable opponent? He is easily accessible unlike a film star...

    His support base is among senior citizens. He is a big leader and has no time for local problems. In politics, I am Hero No 1.

    What is your political plank?

    It is "awaas, prawaas, swasthya aur gyaan" (housing, transportation, health and education). Are slums a development? Is this better housing? I will ensure suburban commuters have a comfortable train journey. I will also ensure that health care is available to people in the remote areas of my constituency.

    How do you plan to implement these schemes?

    I will have my MP's (development) fund.

    You are a crowd puller, but will this translate into votes?

    Wait for (polling day) April 26. I know the problems faced by my constituents. I have lived in Virar and now in Juhu. These are both surburbs. I travel by train, auto and bus.

    How do you plan to improve the power situation and the road conditions in your constituency?

    I do know that my constituency has a large industrial area and the state of the roads is really bad. Both these issues are being looked into on a war footing.

    What is your strength?

    Sai Baba, my mother and the youth of my constituency. The youth identify with me in many ways and I will work for their betterment. I will try and create as many jobs as possible for them.

    Are you a very religious person?

    I believe in Sai Baba. I prayed at the Sai Baba temple at Virar for success in these elections. Every Feb 12, I return to Virar to stage a filmstar night and pray at the Sai Baba temple.

    Finally, will people vote for you because you are a celebrity?

    Not at all! I live in the area. I know the problems faced by people. Star power has nothing to do with my election. My opponent has neglected the constituency; I will not make the same mistake. The vote is for change and for youth. Please remember that I may be a novice in politics, but I know my constituency very well.

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