With the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections just six months away, the Shiv Sena plans to capitalise on two of Mumbai’s most popular festivals – dahi handi and Ganpati -- to campaign for the polls, primarily targeting its ally, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The fight is set to start in south Mumbai, a stronghold for both the parties. Akhanda Maharashtra (undivided Maharashtra) will be the theme of Sena’s events for both the festivals in south Mumbai. The Sena’s plan is to project the BJP as a party that opts for smaller states by dividing Maharashtra into various parts. They want to tell people the Sena is committed to keep Maharashtra intact, with Mumbai as its rightful part.
Pandurang Sakpal, a senior Shiv Sena leader from south Mumbai, said, “The theme is significant not just for Vidarbha, but even for the Mumbai civic polls. Today, BJP leaders have made statements about the possibility of a separate Vidarbha, tomorrow they may talk about carving out a separate identity for Mumbai.”
South Mumbai is home to Mumbai’s oldest residents – Marathi and Gujarati families -- some of whom have been living in the narrow crowded alleyways in Girgaum and Kalbadevi for more than a century. Many of the wards are hotly contested between the Sena and the BJP, excluding the region’s Muslim-dominated areas. Of the 18 civic wards in south Mumbai, the Sena holds six, while the BJP holds three.
Similarly, the Sena represents a parliamentary constituency through MP Arvind Sawant, while assembly constituencies are represented by BJP legislators Raj Purohit and Mangal Prabhat Lodha.
There is a slice of history that Shiv Sena leaders like to quote while justifying the party’s agenda here. The party, which has been at the helm of the BMC for nearly 20 years, was propelled to power in the mid-1980s after a fervent campaign harping on Mumbai’s status in Maharashtra being the pride of the ‘Marathi manoos.’
Sakpal said, “People gave their mandate to the Shiv Sena after former CM Vasantdada Patil started talking about making Mumbai a union territory. The situation is not very different today. In the future, there may be talks about merging Mumbai with Gujarat too.”
For the Shiv Sena-sponsored dahi handi at Girgaum naka, the party is planning to recreate the Hutatma memorial in the backdrop of Maharashtra’s map. The trophies to be given out to govindas will be shaped like the Hutatma memorial. There will be a running political commentary on loudspeakers about the history of Maharashtra’s formation, the state’s martyrs, political attempts to divide it and the Shiv Sena’s penchant to keep it intact, local leaders said. Similarly, the party-sponsored Ganpati mandal in Chandanwadi will have an audio visual playing on a big screen, explaining the Shiv Sena’s commitment for an ‘Akhanda Maharashtra.’
Sunil Shinde, Shiv Sena legislator from Worli, said, “The festivals, especially Ganpati, have a historical importance in Girgaum, and the Chandanwadi mandal has been one of the most significant ones that the party supports. Besides, elsewhere we are going ahead as we always do, providing insurance and other logistics, organizing events and competitions.”
“The Sena has been doing this for years, whereas you will see other parties jump into the fray only before elections,” Shinde said, in a barb aimed at the BJP, which has for the first time joined the race in supporting dahi handi and Ganpati mandals. Wanting a bigger share in the country’s richest municipal corporation, the BJP has been aggressively trying to expand its presence and consolidate its position in Mumbai.
“All old mandals in Mumbai have an established identity and political affinity. The BJP traditionally has no mandals. They are trying to adopt existing Ganpati mandals by offering financial backing. But it’s a tradition and years of work that secures voters. People are not going to vote only on the basis of a sponsorship board,” Vinod Ghosalkar, Sena legislator from Dahisar, said.