Will the battle for the nation’s richest civic body be played out over the Marathi manoos agenda?
As the Shiv Sena announced its break up with the BJP, an ally of two decades in the civic body, the saffron allies now take position as main opponents in the battle for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. The big questions are, can the Sena swing the lead by retaining its loyal Maharashtrian vote bank, and perhaps go a little beyond? And, will identity and emotive politics still score over the development agenda the BJP will flag?
For 15 years, the saffron allies have played established roles — the Sena retaining its hold on the Maharashtrian vote bank; the BJP cornering traders, Gujarati voters and middle-classes. This time around, the BJP, in expansionist mode, made a pitch for the cosmopolitan, non-Marathi vote bank of north Indians and Gujaratis. Political analysts feel both parties will have to go little beyond these vote banks to win the BMC, but there is no denying the Marathi manoos issue will take centre-stage, again.
The BJP knows this could be its weak point. “Our weakness is in two areas – the Sena’s loyal vote bank that for the last 20-odd years has not deserted it, and its ground network of shakhas. The Marathi manoos feels the Sena is its protector. We are confident of getting the non-Marathi voter behind us, but we also need to make a dent in this Sena vote bank. And, we will have to show the Sena does not have a copyright on Marathi manoos. Our CM is one, so is city chief Ashish Shelar, education minister Vinod Tawde and MP Poonam Mahajan,’’ said a senior BJP leader. He added the BJP’s development and anti-corruption agenda will give it a currency across class and communities. “The city is cosmopolitan, the Marathi manoos plank will not now give Sena dividends as Maharashtrian youngsters voted for us in 2014.’’
The Sena’s assessment is different. Its leaders will escalate the Marathi manoos plank. Outsiders making a bid for Mumbai, Marathi pride, Maharashtrians versus high command culture of PM Modi and BJP president Amit Shah will be in focus.It remains to be seen if this will take on shrill tones or be a focused campaign in Maharashtrian strongholds. The party may be compelled to bank on it as it faces anti-incumbency, and the only way to divert attention is raising an emotive issue. During his speech on Thursday, Thackeray said a reason for the break-up was BJP’s attempt to encroach on his home (Mumbai).
“Things are going to get ugly with Sena attacking Fadnavis, Modi, and MPs like Kirit Somiaya taking on Thackeray. If Sena wants control of BMC, it can’t rely on the Maharashtrian vote, but identity politics and Marathi pride will be used to whip up anti-BJP sentiment,’’ said political analyst Prakash Bal.
The BJP’s conundrum? If it tries too hard to cosy up to the Maharashtrian voter, it may alienate its north Indian vote bank. The Sena hopes to win over Gujarati traders and cash in on anti-demonetisation votes to make up for its otherwise poor show with non-Maharashtrian voters. Handing out tickets to such candidates will be a step toward that.