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BMC elections: a micro-level analysis

The elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the richest local government body in Asia promised to be a political thriller and it lived up to that promise. Erstwhile saffron allies were fighting to gain primacy in the municipality which they have together ruled unbroken for last 20 years. The main opposition Congress was relegated to an also ran due to the infighting in the Mumbai Congress ranks. The Congress seemed out of contention even before the first vote was polled. The saying ‘Dono ka jhadga, teesre ko laabh’ does not work in the fight between BJP and Sena, especially if the third-party is the Congress.

Congress and SP also faced the challenge of MIM which had got good support in the Muslim dominated areas in the assembly polls of 2014. Raj Thackeray’s railway engine had started off late in the campaigning and did not seem like it was going to reach its desired station. Thus the stage was set for a saffron face-off where the issues were anything but saffron.

The election was fought mainly on development and promises of yet more development. Sena was stretched thin trying to project the sparse work done in last 20 years, while Fadnavis was banking on the CCTV project, Wi Fi project and the three metro routes under construction. The metro routes were the most visible civic work in progress and Fadnavis was using it as his trump card.

Campaigning was ugly on occasions with both Uddhav and Fadnavis taking jibes at each other. This has been the pattern of BJP and Shiv Sena to change the narrative to a fight between the two. The other parties were left trying to register their presence in the voter’s mind.

Before the elections, my prediction was that Shiv Sena would be the single largest party with 75-90 seats followed by BJP with 70-80 seats. I expected the rest of the parties like Cong, NCP, MNS and SP would struggle to put up a decent score. I expected MIM to put up a great show and garner about 10-15 seats.

Voting percentage this time was approximately 55% and was in-line with the Lok Sabha 2014 and Vidhan Sabha 2014 elections. Though this was a huge 13% jump as compared to the turnout of the BMC 2012 polls (42%). There was huge speculation as to which party would benefit due to the increase in the voting percentage. Would it help the challenger BJP or the incumbent Sena? Sena had not faced any meaningful challenge in the BMC polls in the last 10 years, given the low credibility of the Congress party.

On 23rd Feb 2017, Shiv Sena began with a bang during the counting of votes and looked like taking a runaway lead till 1 pm. However, they hit their ceiling thereafter and their seats slowly came down to 84. BJP which was running 35 seats behind Sena tally till 1 pm, rallied in the late afternoon and finished on 82 seats (including the tied seat won through a lottery). Part of this is because the trends from the Mumbai city (South and Central Mumbai) wards were reported early. The trends from the suburban wards came in bit late leading to the BJP surge. Also Sena lost a lot of seats to BJP in the last few rounds.

Of the top 10 winning margins, 9 went to the BJP and one to the Sena. The biggest win was with a margin of 19,556 votes by Pravin Shah in Ward 15 (in Borivali). He polled 22,860 votes out of the 31,177 votes polled.

Sena and BJP both have their areas of influence. BJP performed exceptionally well in the Dahisar to Bandra belt winning about 49 seats in these Western suburbs. The credit for this performance goes to State minister Vinod Tawde who was in charge of this area, MPs Gopal Shetty and Poonam Mahajan, city president Ashish Shelar, MLAs Yogesh Sagar, Vidya Thakur, Atul Bhatkhalkar and Amit Satam etc. BJP won majority of the wards in Borivali (always a BJP stronghold), Kandivali, Charkop, Goregaon (wrested in 2014 from the Sena), Andheri West, Versova, Vile Parle etc. With a little bit of luck and effort they could have easily won 60 seats in this belt.

Performance in areas like Magathane and Dahisar was poorer than expected. MLA Manishatai Chaudhari and MLC Pravin Darekar have a lot to answer for this failure. For example in Ward 1 (in Dahisar), BJP ignored the demand of ticket from old hand Ram Yadav. He rebelled and put up his wife Rekha Yadav as an independent. Sena secured 4913 votes and won the ward. The rebel Rekha Yadav was the runner up with 3089 votes. Congress was third with 2719 votes and the official BJP candidate came in fourth with 2584 votes. Important point is the votes of BJP’s official candidate and rebel were 5673 which is more than the winning Sena candidate. The result justifies Ram Yadav’s demand for the ticket and thus the loss can be put to wrong candidate selection in this ward.

On the positive side, BJP managed some gains in Jogeshwari, Bhandup and Girgaon which are Sena bastions. Sena as expected performed extremely well in its strongholds of Dadar-Prabhadevi, Mahim, Naigaon, Worli, Lalbaug – Parel etc. in the Central and South Mumbai area. In Dadar-Mahim, they swept away the MNS. In South Mumbai, BJP did well in Mumbadevi and Colaba.

In the Eastern suburbs, the honors were evenly distributed with BJP taking Mulund (6/6 wards) and wins in Ghatkopar and Chembur. Sena won in Bhandup, Vikhroli and Shivaji Nagar. Noticable was BJP win in the two wards in Bhandup along the Lal Bahadur Shastri (LBS) marg. SP won majority of the wards in Mankhurd – Deonar.

Main observations about these results are as follows,

  1. Though Sena has retained its Marathi vote bank, BJP is making inroads in many Marathi areas all across Mumbai.
  2. Mumbai voters are broadly split across class lines. The middle class and upper middle class Marathi voters living in buildings and high rises vote for BJP. The lower middle class Marathi voters living in chawls and poor Marathis living in slums prefer Sena. Again these is a broad classification and varies across Mumbai. For example, the Marathi voters in Mahim – Dadar are among the most educated, upwardly mobile and their votes were mostly to the Sena and then the MNS. BJP is currently not an option for them. But many poor slum dwelling Marathis in the Western suburbs vote for the BJP.
  3. Gujarati voters turned out in huge numbers in Borivali, Kandivali, Malad, Mulund and Ghatkopar and overwhelmingly supported BJP. Their votes gave a huge push to the BJP to increase their tally. There is a huge increase in the number of Gujarati speaking corporators especially of the BJP across the city.
  4. Hindi speaking voters shifted even more towards the BJP but supported Cong on few seats. This powered the BJP towards a historic tally. Many ex Cong corporators and leaders joined BJP and won in these polls. Prominent among them were Sagar Singh Thakur (son of ex Cong MLA Ramesh Singh Thakur who joined BJP) and ex Cong corporator Vidyarthi Singh. 13 out of the 18 turncoats who joined BJP won.
  5. Three out of the four citizen candidates put by BJP won. These include Renu Hansraj (Ward 69), Makarand Narvekar (ward 227) and Harshita Narvekar (Ward 226). I expect this to be a big trend going forward and more parties will incorporate citizen corporators backed by Advanced Locality Management (ALM) committees.
  6. Congress won just 31 seats, down 21 from 2012. Many of their corporators were from the minority section, and they got mostly Muslim and Christian vote. They lost the Hindi speaking votes mainly to BJP.
  7. MNS crashed to a low of 7 corporators from a tally of 29 in 2012. This was expected by most of the observers and media. However, MNS proved a point by ensuring defeat of Sena candidates in about 35 wards due to division of votes and denied the Sena a chance to get a simple majority. This is a significant fact as MNS had approached Shiv Sena for a pre poll alliance and were ready to fight as less as 30/227 seats in Mumbai. Uddhav spurned the offer as he did not want to revive Raj’s flagging career
  8. MIM made its debut in the city winning just two seats, which must have been a big disappointment to the Owaisis. The Muslim voters in Mumbai city did not trust them enough this time.

Going forward the following could be the implications of these elections: (refer to map here)

  1. BJP has a lot of scope to improve its already big tally in the Western suburbs while capturing new ground in the Eastern suburbs and Mumbai city area. They now have to capture a substantial part of the lower class and poor Marathi vote bank.
  2. BJP won 49 in the Western suburbs, 19 in the Eastern suburbs and 14 in South and Central Mumbai. They have ample scope to increase their influence using the metro train route followed by Fadnavis. Construction work on two new metro routes (Andheri to Mankhurd via BKC and Wadala – Thane) would start in a year. Would that help the BJP win in those areas touched by the metro?
  1. The Sena’s  seats can be seen in a bunch in the South and Central Mumbai area and the west side. Now onwards the demography becomes difficult for the Sena. BJP will keep on chipping into the Marathi vote and increasingly non Marathi voters will keep on increasing in Mumbai. Their only way of redemption is to work towards holistic development of the city and its infrastructure. They will find tough competition here with the Fadnavis style of aggressive corporate style development model. Can Uddhav and his army live up to it needs to be seen. Also Sena has to look beyond the Marathi voters and try to win over the Gujarati, Hindi speaking, South Indian voters as well. Sena has already surprised many by having two Muslim winners. This was unimaginable about 5 years ago.
  2. Cong and NCP seem inclined to indirectly help Sena get its mayor in Mumbai with the help of small parties and independents. But they have to be wary of an aggressive BJP sitting on the opposition benches. Expect lot of old scams to be unearthed in the near future and MP Kirit Somaiyya to be vocal.
  3. The stability of the Fadnavis government and the possibility of mid-term polls also depends on the March 11 result of UP assembly. If BJP wins UP decisively, Sena might stay in the government for a while. BJP’s strong performance in the 8 municipalities, Zilla Parishad and Panchayat samitis have put the opposition in shock. Many opposition and even Sena MLAs have won on slender margins in 2014 and may not want to face mid-term polls, given BJP’s increasing strength across the state. There is also a possibility that if the Sena withdraws support, BJP might themselves want to go for mid-term polls in Maharashtra.
  4. Fadnavis is a big time winner of this semi-final in Maharashtra before the 2019 state polls. Not only has he lead the BJP to win 8/10 municipalities but given the Sena a tough fight in Mumbai. This coupled with the success in the ZP and panchayat samiti polls ensures that the political weight of Devendra Fadnavis in BJP and political circles is bound to increase. Can the Sena and opposition give a fight to stop Fadnavis is an important question on which depends the future polls in Mumbai.

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