In the 2009 Assembly polls, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) won six seats in Mumbai and determined the fate of several more, by denting the prospects of its rival, the Shiv Sena –Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alliance, in 20 constituencies.
Five years after this spectacular state poll debut, the party faces a crisis in its city of birth. While it doesn’t have much to show for in recent years, its prospects in the upcoming state polls have also been dimmed by recent setbacks.
While the exit of its Ghatopkar (West) strongman, MLA Ram Kadam, who has joined the BJP, has dealt a major blow to the party, HT has learnt that the party’s senior-most legislator and its leader in the assembly, Bala Nandgaonkar, has refused to contest the polls from Sewri, an erstwhile Sena stronghold that party won in 2009. Furthermore, the party faces anti-incumbency in both Bhandup and Vikhroli, two major seats it bagged in 2009.
The festering crisis in these strongholds and its weakening popularity means that retaining its hold over the city, leave alone building on it, looks difficult. This, in turn, could benefit the saffron alliance, which could regain control over Mumbai
The party, however, senses an opportunity in the ongoing standoff over seat-sharing between Sena-BJP and Congress-NCP.If either of the two alliances break, it could mean big gains for the MNS, party leaders feel. A recent internal survey done by the party indicated that the MNS stands a chance in 28 out of 36 seats in Mumbai.“We will fight all 36 seats in Mumbai and plan to ensure that we retain our appeal across the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, Pune and Nasik by fighting all 100 seats,” said a senior party leader of the party.
The party’s fall from grace began shortly after the 2009 state polls. Its performance in the 2012 BMC polls, was the first sign of things going wrong. The party managed to get just 28 corporators elected [out of 227 seats]. In the recent Lok Sabha polls, the party not only drew a blank; all its candidates lost their deposit.
An MNS MLA from the city accepted the party is on weak footing. “Somehow, our leaders have failed to connect with people. Had they been popular, we would be able to retain its six assembly seats easily. This may not be the case.”
Officially, however, the party continues to be optimistic. “We are confident. We have regrouped, our workers have gone to the grassroots and with Rajsaheb [MNS chief] unveiling the blueprint for the state, voters have a lot to look forward to,” said senior leader Pravin Darekar.