The Shiv Sena, which draws political sustenance from its influence over Mumbai, has more to lose than its uneasy ally, the BJP, if this week’s elections to the country’s richest civic body throw up a fragmented mandate.
No party is expected to bag a clear majority from the vote to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Exit polls show that the Shiv Sena and the BJP, which are partners in the state government but fought the municipal elections on their own, were probably tied neck-and-neck.
In 2012, Shiv Sena bagged 75 seats, and along with its junior partner BJP, which took 31, won control over the 227-member civic body. The BJP has since grown in stature, winning the state assembly election in 2014. That triggered unease in their ties, as Shiv Sena battled to retain control over a city crucial to its political survival.
Analysts say if the BJP manages to double its strength in the civic body it will greatly undermine the Shiv Sena in its own citadel. It will signal that the BJP has emerged from the shadows of its senior partner, and worsen the already troubled alliance that rules the state.
With the BJP’s growing clout in Mumbai, the Shiv Sena too was forced to tweak its traditionally nativist campaign strategy this time.
“For the first time, the Shiv Sena mainly campaigned in English to reach out to a larger cosmopolitan population. It didn’t highlight any pro-Marathi or Hindutva agenda,” Surendra Jondhale, head of Mumbai University’s politics department told Hindustan Times.
“It gave tickets to non-Maharashtrians in decent numbers. This was in response to the BJP’s aggressive campaigning on development and change.”
The vote saw the highest turnout in a quarter century. Usually, a higher voter turnout signals an anti-incumbency sentiment. But this time Shiv Sena might benefit from it, given that the increase in voting was in the party’s strongholds of Dahisar, Bhandup, Borivali, Parel and Dadar.
Sena politicians remain optimistic.
“We expect our performance to be more or less in line with the exit polls or even slightly better. Shiv Sena is likely to get between 92 and 100 seats,” a party leader said on condition of anonymity.
“The exit polls for the BJP, however, seem off the mark. At best the party can get about 60-64 seats.”