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Can CM Fadnavis win them all?

Party eyes non Marathi voters, urban poor as it heads into Mumbai civic polls 2017, big worry continues to be Sena’s loyal vote bank

mumbai Updated: Jan 19, 2017 09:30 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Fadnavis has attended Chhat Pujas, Uttar Bharatiya programmes, Tamil sammelans, Dalit programmes in the past one year, leaving no community out
Fadnavis has attended Chhat Pujas, Uttar Bharatiya programmes, Tamil sammelans, Dalit programmes in the past one year, leaving no community out(HT File Photo)

For the past six months, an indicator installed at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) office in Dadar has been showing the countdown to the 2017 Mumbai civic polls, in days, hours, minutes and seconds. It tells party workers exactly how much time they have to pull off a victory, down to the last second.

It is a significant election for the BJP since it won the Assembly polls in 2014. Contrary to the past 25 years, this time the Mumbai civic polls are not revolving around the Sena, but the BJP.

The party hopes to more than double its seats from the current 31 to 80-85 of the 227 seats, to wrest control of the country’s financial capital. It’s a difficult feat, given the party’s highest score in the past 15 years has been 35 seats.

The 2014 Assembly polls propped the party to power in Maharashtra and changed the political equation in Mumbai. The BJP won the highest number of legislators in the city, 15 of the 36. With it, came the confidence that it can make a bid for the BMC as an equal partner of the Sena, if not alone. With power in the state as well as the Centre, and BJP’s winning streak unabated even in the recently concluded municipal council polls, party leaders feel it may be now or never.

Not taking a chance

“We are systematic in our approach. CM Devendra Fadnavis prefers to rely on data instead of sentiments. It worked in the Kalyan-Dombivli civic polls where our tally rose from 9 to 42. We hope it will work for us in Mumbai too,” said a senior party functionary.

Four detailed surveys have been carried out by the party so far, two by Mumbai city chief Ashish Shelar and two by Fadnavis to understand the pulse of the city and where the BJP stands.

While the party’s Dadar office has been serving as the nerve centre for the electoral efforts, a war room at Nariman Point has been dabbling with various sets of data. Besides, the surveys on the party’s chances in polls, data on community-wise break-up to identify BJP voters and winnability of candidates in each ward has also been undertaken to work out a strategy

Change in approach

In a marked shift from the earlier stand, where the BJP was seen as the favoured party of trading communities like Gujaratis and middle-class Maharashtrians, the party has made a sustained outreach to north Indians, who make up for nearly 20% of the city’s population. The party is targeting non-Marathi voters, so far seen as the Congress domain, besides making inroads in the slums. Fadnavis has attended Chhat Pujas, Uttar Bharatiya programmes, Tamil sammelans, Dalit programmes in the past one year, leaving no community out. North Indian leaders like RN Singh, president of Uttar Bharatiya Sangh with Congress credentials, has been inducted into the party and even made an MLC.

“Marathi voters may account for 30% of the city voters, but north Indians and Gujaratis are also a big component. Earlier, 100% of Marathi voters would come out to vote, while the other communities didn’t vote much. Now, they have settled, call Mumbai their home and vote. Even slum pockets are more cosmopolitan today,” said Parag Alavani, BJP legislator from Vile Parle.

The other big change has been the shift from the middle class to the urban poor. One of the big exercises carried out by the party last year was to identify BJP voters from slums. It carried out a polling booth wise survey of those who had benefitted from central schemes like LPG subsidy. Many of those identified were inducted as party workers and are now its brand ambassadors. “The BJP voters live in shanty towns and look up to the BJP’s development agenda and PM Modi,” said the party’s organising secretary Sunil Karjatkar.

The party is confident its traditional middle class Maharashtrian voters will support it.

No to corruption

It is more than evident that Fadnavis is the face of the party as it goes to polls and development is the campaign plank. From the metro network to free WiFi and CCTV cameras, the BJP will ask voters to make a choice based on the work done by the government in the past two years.

Also, the party does not want to let go of its anti-corruption plank that gave it dividends in 2014 polls. So it started targeting the Shiv Sena for the scams in the civic body from poor roads to nullahs, a year before the elections.

“The mandate we have is clearly anti-corruption and no one can be fooled into thinking the BMC is not corrupt. As a dominant partner in the BMC, the Sena is responsible. That’s why the CM has insisted on transparency,” said a senior party minister. The party’s big fear is this transparency agenda will get diluted if the alliance works.

Politics of poaching

Like in the recently concluded municipal council polls, the party will make use of realpolitik, power and induction of winnable candidates from across parties to increase its tally.

A bid is being made for the MNS vote bank largely by inducting the party corporators and legislators into its fold. The party is investing time and money to make room for itself in Sena bastions of Lalbaug, Parel, Dadar. Much of this work has been outsourced to newly inducted politicians like Prasad Lad, a former NCP politician. Former Sena legislator Suresh Gambhir was inducted to make inroads into the Dadar-Mahim belt. Earlier, MNS’ former legislator Pravin Darekar was inducted and made an MLC.

Corporators like Prakash Darekar and Sukhada Pawar (MNS) and Sagar Thakur, son of former legislator Ramesh Thakur, and Kesarben Patel (Congress) have been admitted into the party so far.

“In many seats, we don’t have candidates because we were contesting limited seats in alliance with the Sena. So, we are looking to induct winnable candidates,” admitted a party legislator.

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