With major political parties gearing up to take control of the richest civic body — the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation — that has an annual budget of Rs30,000 crore, parties that have a limited presence in Mumbai are also preparing for the polls. These small parties will either help or damage the prospects of major players as even a small margin of votes could make a difference.
Many in the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) wonder whether the party will be able to perform like it did during the 2012 polls. However, the MNS is still in a position to create problems for the ruling Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it targets the traditional Maharashtrian vote bank. The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) — a new entrant to the BMC polls — will try to garner Muslim votes, creating trouble for the Congress and the Samajwadi Party (SP). The Congress, which banks on Dalit votes, may face-off against the Republican Party of India (RPI-A) led by Union minister Ramdas Athawale, said experts.
The MNS — which won 28 seats in 2012 with 20.67% of the votes — isn’t looking convincing so far, but could walk away with a chunk of Marathi votes. Some of its sitting corporators too may manage to retain their stronghold. The party hopes for a BJP-Sena alliance so the Sena can no longer criticise the BJP over demonetisation. In that case, Raj Thackeray could seek the votes of those unhappy with the notes ban.
Prakash Bal, political analyst, said the MNS cannot be called a deciding factor in this poll. It could have been if MNS chief Raj Thackeray had undertaken activities necessary for the party’s growth. Nashik, where the party had won a majority of the votes last time, in now in shambles. “The MNS may eat into Sena votes, but only in some Marathi pockets. The party has lost its influence,” he said.
The Congress has been banking on minorities — especially Muslim voters — to win more seats, but it will be challenged by the Owaisi brothers-led AIMIM.
The party hurt the Congress during the 2014 assembly elections and won the Byculla assembly seat. This will be its first civic election and will test its strength in Muslim-dominated areas. “Whatever seats it gets will indicate that Muslims (traditional Congress voters) are wearing away from the Congress and cannot rely on the party anymore,” he said.
Political expert Pratap Asbe said a large faction of Dalit voters led by RPI-A may go with the BJP in the polls owing to the anti-Maratha factor that gained momentum in the backdrop of the silent Maratha protests demanding reservation. The RPI will contest the polls in alliance with the BJP. “We are planning to contest 25 seats if saffron parties ally. Otherwise, we will demand around 50 seats with BJP,” said Athawale.
The MNS dismissed the idea that it is seen as a minor party, and said it would exceed the 2012 tally of 27 corporators. The party is now gearing up to contest all 227 seats. “Our corporators have done commendable work and people are tired of the misrule of the Sena-BJP alliance,” said MNS corporator Sandeep Deshpande.
He argued that the party’s 2014 debacle should not be taken into consideration as the vote was for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and not even for the BJP.
Abu Asim Aazmi, MLA and state SP chief, refuted observations about AIMIM eating into the SP’s votes.
“The AIMIM has been exposed. One cannot get votes just by making speeches. The performance of the party is actually needed while going for polls and we delivered wherever we were given the responsibility. We are hoping for a rise in our tally from nine seats ,” he said. SP plans to contest around 100 seats.