“Mumbai belongs to the Shiv Sena, and Sena to Mumbai,” Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray thundered in the party’s Dussehra rally at Shivaji Park last year.
But barely four months later, the party, which sowed its seeds in Mumbai and rose to national fame, got a huge jolt with the results of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections on Thursday, with the realisation that Mumbai is not exclusively the Shiv Sena’s bastion anymore.
For the first time in 25 years, any party has come uncomfortably close to the Shiv Sena’s strength in Mumbai. It is also the first time in over two decades there is a possibility of the mayor’s office being occupied by a party other than the Shiv Sena.
The Shiv Sena ended up with a tally of 84 seats in the February 21 election to the BMC, with the BJP closely trailing with 82 seats. During the state Assembly elections too, the BJP and Shiv Sena, which contested independently, ended up neck-and-neck in Mumbai, with the former winning 15 Assembly seats and the latter 14.
Surendra Jondhale, head of Mumbai University’s department of politics and civics, said, “It is a significant political setback to the Shiv Sena. The BJP’s electoral strategy, the chief minister’s aggressive language gave political relevance to the BJP. Plus, there was some amount of anti-incumbency sentiment against the Shiv Sena. The close fight is the evidence of that. Undoubtedly, Mumbai is not a Sena bastion anymore and the bargaining power of the Shiv Sena has reduced in the city. The tiff with the BJP will continue and both political parties will try to carve their independent paths for 2019,” he said.
Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, however, maintained he was happy with the party’s victory and the BJP’s success was nothing compared to the money and power they threw into this election. “There was money and power on one side, and the Shiv Sena’s hard work and Mumbai’s blessings on the other side. For 25 years, the Sena worked with the BJP for it to grow. It will take some time for a complete defeat,” the Sena chief said.
The Sena reclaimed its bastions of Dadar and Mahim from the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which won the seats in 2012, and posted a strong victory across the city’s Marathi-dominated areas such as Parel, Lalbaug, Bhandup, Dahisar, Bandra East, Santacruz East, Khar and so on. The party also got its first Muslim corporator elected with Haji Mohammed Halim Khan, who defected to the Sena from the All India Majlis-eIttehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) in search of candidature, winning from Bandra’s Behrampada.
However, the Shiv Sena managed a strike rate of just 37% this election, contesting all 227 seats, unlike in the earlier civic polls when it managed to win more than 50% of the seats, contesting in an alliance. It also ceded space to the BJP, with the latter whipping up erstwhile Sena strongholds such as Andheri East, Jogeshwari and Goregaon.
While senior Shiv Sena leaders such as Ashish Chemburkar, Mangesh Satamkar, sitting mayor Snehal Ambekar, and former mayors Shraddha Jadhav, Milind Vaidya and Vishakha Raut, posted victory, a number of the party’s strong candidates also suffered a defeat. These include Devendra Amberkar, who jumped from the Congress to the Sena just before the elections, and standing committee chairman Yashodhar Phanse. Both candidates lost to the BJP.
In a setback to Sena Member of Parliament (MP) Rahul Shewale, his wife Kamini lost to BJP’s Anita Panchal. Panchal and her husband Dinesh Panchal were members of the Sena, who defected to the BJP before elections, after their parent party decided to field Rahul Shewale’s wife instead of Anita Panchal.