With its former ally now metamorphosed into its single-largest threat in the upcoming Mumbai civic elections, the Shiv Sena is carefully sharpening its knives to take on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) across the city’s 227 wards and is under fierce pressure to stamp its authority on its home turf.
The party has already taken the lead in its campaign on social media. Its campaign will be a mix of Marathi pride, demonetisation and what it did for the city.
While the party is confident it can retain its traditional Marathi votes by raising the issue of Marathi pride, according to sources, it is also planning to convert the discontent among non-Marathi communities , such as the Gujarati trading community, against the Centre’s demonetisation move into votes.
The contest between the two parties is likely to be the fiercest in areas such as Borivli, Vile Parle, Goregaon, Andheri, Dahisar and Mulund where the BJP has its legislators, but the Shiv Sena has a strong number of corporators. Before calling the alliance off, the Shiv Sena conducted an internal survey, which estimated that the party can modestly end up with a tally of 105 to 115 if it contests alone, while the BJP can at the most touch 70 to 80, say Sena leaders.
The party, which has consistently been opposing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move, plans to use the much-debated scheme to campaign against the BJP ahead of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls.
The party will campaign against demonetisation especially in Gujarati-dominated areas, with most of the trading and business community in Mumbai being Gujaratis.
“Demonetisation has severely hurt the trading community in Mumbai. The Sena has never been anti-Gujaratis. This is a misunderstanding created by a few over the years. The Shiv Sena is pro-Mumbai and anyone who works in the city’s interest is a Mumbaiite in our eyes. Those hurt because of demonetisation will now see Shiv Sena as a credible alternative,” a senior Sena leader said.
Besides, the Sena will also highlight several delays by the state and Union governments in approving proposals of the BMC.
Rahul Shewale, Member of Parliament (MP), from the Shiv Sena, said, “The urban development department is sitting on various proposals of the BMC, which if passed efficiently can make people’s life easier. We will highlight that the department is headed by none other than chief minister Devendra Fadnavis.”
Proposals approved by the BMC such as opening up certain areas of Mumbai 24/7 to improve nightlife, a parking policy, creating a theme park at Mahalaxmi Racecourse have been pending with the state government, according to Sena leaders.
Even in Thursday’s gathering where Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray formally ruptured his party’s alliance with the BJP, he spoke about how the BMC had completed work on the Middle Vaitarna dam within 3.5 years and it is only due to delays by the state and the Centre that the project took much longer to complete.
Sena leaders said, with the growing animosity between the two parties, party workers had an inkling that the Sena might have to contest independently in the 2017 BMC polls and has been preparing since a year by consciously taking up works in BJP’s wards and increasing the Sena’s presence.
The party, which is fine-tuning its list of candidates, also plans to field more non-Maharashtrian candidates in areas where other communities are in strong numbers.
In the Colaba, Girgaum, Kalbadevi belt, for example, while Girgaum has always been a Shiv Sena stronghold, the wards in Kalbadevi and Colaba areas have a dominant Gujarati population and have mostly been loyal to the BJP.
Pandurang Sakpal, senior Sena leader from the region, said, “We are looking to field candidates who the communities can relate to. From among the wards in South Mumbai, leaving aside the core Maharashtrian heartlands, more than half the names on our candidates list are non-Marathis.”