The battle for Marathi votes just got tougher. In addition to the parties that traditionally appealed to the ‘Marathi manoos’, the Shiv Sena and more lately, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), other parties have jumped on to the bandwagon in this assembly election.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after its split with the Sena, is keen to not lose the substantial vote of the Marathi population. Its billboards and posters, which went up across Mumbai barely a day after the split, invoked the Maratha ruler Chhatrapati Shivaji.
The Congress has been projecting former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, its face in the election, as an able administrator as well as a Marathi manoos.
Just as important is its critique of the BJP’s Narendra Modi-led central government, which leaders such as Narayan Rane, among others, have pointed out “seems to be against Maharashtra”.
“There’s a larger plan to diminish Mumbai, Maharashtra in order to make Gujarat number one,” said Rane, terming the Assembly election as a battle for Maharashtra’s identity.
The battle in Mumbai, with 36 seats in the assembly, is a particularly strident one. With nearly 40% of its population Maharashtrian, the Shiv Sena which has always played the ‘Marathi manoos’ card enjoys a headstart.
That other parties have begun to openly invoke the “Marathi manoos’ card means the issue has been mainstreamed, said analysts. “Each party will try to be more ‘Marathi’ than the other,” said B Venkatesh Kumar, political analyst.
After the Sena-BJP alliance broke last week, the Sena leadership believes it does not need to balance Hindutva and Marathi manoos planks any longer; in fact, it has turned the assembly election into a straight fight for regional pride. Constituencies like Ghatkopar and Malad-Borivili could see acrimonious campaigns built around the politics of identity.
“We were always speaking for the Marathi manoos. Others have woken up now,” said Neelam Gorhe, Sena MLC and spokesperson. That large businesses and trades based in Mumbai are owned and/or controlled by Gujaratis and Marwaris, perceived as old and loyal supporters of the BJP, makes it easier to insinuate that the BJP has devious plans. The BJP, of course, denied any such sinister plan.
“We are contesting t he Assembly election in Maharashtra. Chhatrapati Shivaji is considered the aradhya-devata here. So, we are going into the election with his name right up there,” said a spokesperson. Both the Sena and Congress have raised the dissonance on the BJP’s billboards; how do Chhatrapati Shivaji and Narendra Modi go together, they asked.
The Marathi vote is a consolidated one and it’s largely with the Sena; other parties are fighting for the non-Marathi vote but this one is split into the Gujarati, north Indian and other vote banks, conceded a Congress general secretary.
The ‘Marathi manoos’ electoral plank could work in some urban areas but it could be difficult to reach this issue across the state; urban areas which see migration on large scales for work tend to become playgrounds for politics of identity, analysts said.