If Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray wants to become chief minister after the Assembly elections, he will have to win big in the city first.
On Thursday, when the saffron combine of 25 years (Shiv Sena-BJP) and the ruling alliance of 15 years (Congress-NCP) broke up, the battle for Mumbai’s 36 seats split wide open.
A day before that, the verdict for Mumbai was simpler. The financial capital of India could have gone saffron. Now, as the city and the state witness a multi-cornered contest for the first time in nearly two decades, how the city will vote could be anyone’s guess. But, it seems for the Sena, the battle for Maharashtra will have to first be won in Mumbai.
“At this preliminary stage, one can say that the Shiv Sena is at an advantage. The party’s organisation is very strong in Mumbai and best among all the contenders (BJP, MNS, Congress, NCP). The BJP’s support base in Mumbai is in that sense limited to Gujarati-dominated areas (Ghatkopar, Mulund, Borivli),’’ said Prakash Bal, political analyst.
With its bête noir Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS) strength on the decline, the Sena may not lose out like it did in the 2009 Assembly polls.
But, the final verdict could depend on a variety of factors – candidates, local issues, campaign strategies of the parties, to tacit understandings between candidates, split of Marathi votes between the Sena and the MNS, the response of other communities in the city and the constituency make-up.
Despite the decline, the MNS factor cannot be ruled out. To add to this, if its ally-turned-foe BJP manages to whip up a strong Modi sentiment yet again, there could be some more trouble for the Sena.
As Bal pointed out, “If the BJP can whip up sentiment about Modi, they may influence other urban, middle-class voters and gain in the city. If Sena basis its campaign on the Samyukta Maharashtra movement and Marathi pride, there could be a polarised battle between Maharashtrians and Gujaratis in the city.’’
Bal, however, does not think the Congress has anything to gain from the split in the saffron alliance .
What could work in favour of the party is that in a five-cornered contest, the victory margin in the polls will be less. If a candidate manages to hold on to 30,000 to 35,000 voters in his constituency, he/she could make it to the winning line.
“We could gain from the split in the Sena-BJP if we retain our traditional vote bank because the votes could get split between the former allies. Now, it depends on individual candidate and the work done by him or her,’’ said a sitting Congress legislator.
For instance, if Vile Parle sees a high-pitched battle between BJP supporters and traditional Maharashtrian Sena voters, the Congress candidate may just win.
The party is also expected to retain some of its pockets where the make-up of the constituency – slum population, Muslims – goes in its favour.
In the 1999 polls, when the state and Mumbai witnessed a three-way battle between the Congress, NCP and Sena-BJP, the city voted in favour of the saffron combine. It picked up 19 out of the 34 seats, but the Congress still retained 10.
NCP, which is contesting solo, is not considered much of a contender in the city (has three city MLAs) and is unlikely to make its mark at this stage.