There is a reason why the top echelons of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena, who have so far been at constant loggerheads, will now sit across a table and hammer out a seat-sharing agreement for the upcoming Mumbai civic polls. Hint: Just read between the numbers. Neither of the two parties has been able to strengthen its grip over the city at the councilor ward level for the past three civic polls, and a united front will only ensure a more comfortable victory.
Between 2002 and 2012, the strike rate and vote share of both the BJP and the Shiv Sena in the civic polls has been more or less stagnant, tending towards a slight dip, data from the State Election Commission (SEC) shows. The two parties have always contested in an alliance since 1997, with the Shiv Sena taking a lion’s share of the 227 seats in Mumbai.
In 2012, the party fought 135 seats and won 75, registering a strike rate of 55.55%, and polling 21.86% of the total votes. In contrast, in 2002, the party contested in 168 wards, won 98, and registered a strike rate of 58.3% with a total vote share of 28.1%.
Similarly, the BJP had a hit rate of 49.2% in 2012, winning 31 of the 63 seats it contested, and polled a vote share of 8.64%, as against a strike rate of 50.7% in 2002 with a vote share of 9.06%.
The strike rate and vote share of the two parties in the 2007 civic polls were also range-bound with the Sena getting a hit rate of 54.2% and a vote share of 22.71%, and the BJP at 38.9% and 8.69%.
A senior Mumbai-based BJP leader said, “Trying to work out an alliance despite our differences is more of a precautionary approach to ensure success. At present, there is space for both the parties to grow, but we don’t want to risk hiving off each other’s votes and dampening our chances.”
He said as an alliance, both the Sena and the BJP have a good chance of improving their strike rate and the vote share at the local councilor ward level, with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Congress and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) being on a downward spiral. “Despite anti-incumbency, there are no other credible alternatives for people, so the Shiv Sena and the BJP as a combine will definitely benefit,” he said.
The Congress’ vote share in the civic polls, too, has been more or less consistent at 21.23% in 2012, and 26% in both 2007 and 2002. The party lost its hold on the city during the Lok Sabha and Assembly polls in 2014 owing to anti-incumbency and a strong pro-BJP wave, and there is a fear that infighting and factionalism within the party will dampen its performance in the Mumbai civic polls too.
The BJP leaders, however, insist the party stands to gain if it contests solo.
Former BJP legislator Madhu Chavan said the party can grow in Mumbai this time even if it fights solo with its massive victory in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections percolating to the councilor wards too. “Besides, the state and the Central government have taken a lot of decisions for Mumbai’s major problems of transportation and housing. If we contest by ourselves, the BJP is capable of touching even 107-108 seats,” he added.
However, even as the BJP benefited from the Congress’ deceleration in 2014, it could not sweep the city in the assembly polls as it contested independently and ended up neck-to-neck with Shiv Sena with the former winning in 15 constituencies and the latter in 14. Besides, the factors for state- and Centre-level polls as against local polls are considered to be quite different, with the turnout being lower, more parties in the fray and voters looking more at local problems than wider policy issues.
Sena leader Anil Parab said the circumstances in every election are different, and an opportunity to grow doesn’t present itself always. “In such a scenario, the party tries to maintain its existing strength, which both the Sena and the BJP have been doing. But this time, there is an opportunity to grow with the lack of a credible opposition and MNS’ impact on the wane. Together, we can touch a minimum of 150 seats and even improve the Sena’s strike rate to about 70%,” he said.