“It took time for people to digest that I am a Shiv Sena candidate now,” said Mukesh Karia, the party’s only Gujarati face in Mulund, an area dominated by the community.
Karia is among the dozen Gujarati faces the Sena is fielding this time to retain control of some key wards that have so far been BJP strongholds.
The party has roped in old-timers, newcomers and former BJP leaders, all to woo the Gujaratis.
But what’s causing this frenzy?
Until this year, the Sena left most Gujarati, Marwadi and Jain areas to its former ally in the civic body, the BJP.
Contesting for the first time in over two decades without its partner, the Gujarati vote will be crucial to both parties — with 15 lakh Gujarati voters in Mumbai, the community is bound to tilt the scales.
The Sena is also hoping to cash in on the resentment among the city’s traders over the BJP-led Centre’s demonetisation decision.
Karia will fight BJP MP Kirit Somaiya’s son Neil from ward 108. A former BJP functionary, Karia moved to the Sena recently after the BJP ticket was given to Neil.
“It took some time for the Gujarati supporters to accept that I am now a Sena candidate, but I have been in this ward for 48 years. The people know me well,” he said.
Karia said while the ward is known to be dominated by Gujaratis, ward 108 has 18,000 Maharashtrian voters, only 7,000 Gujarati voters.
Another candidate, Biren D. Limbachiya, said PM Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move not only hurt the trader community, but affected everybody adversely.
The demonetisation issue alone will play a role in the elections as the people are still “licking the demonetisation wound”.
“In the past two-and-a-half years, the BJP government has disappointed people thrice. The jeweller (Soni) community faced harassment after the government proposed excise duty on non-silver jewellery, and they went on a stir for 45 days. Then, because of demonetisation, several people were harassed at the hands of I-T officials. It was an ill-planned move, The community is deeply hurt,” the businessman-turned-politician said.
The Sena also parachuted Patidar community leader Hardik Patel last week to woo Gujarati voters.
Patel campaigned for Limbachiya in ward 55, which comprises Jawahar Nagar, Unnat Nagar, MG Road, Shashtri Nagar and areas of Goregaon (West). Limbachiya’s ward has traditionally been a Sena stronghold.
He said, “Of the total 54,870 voters, there are 22,000 Gujaratis and 18,000 Marathi voters in the ward. So, it’s a good mix.”
Sena candidate Mangal Bhanushali is another former BJP member. Bhanushali was heading the Gujarati cell for the BJP until recently. He will contest from Ghatkopar, ward 131.
“Gujaratis can never forget the Sena protected them during riots. They also respect Balasaheb Thackeray’s ideology,” he said. A former corporator, Bhanushali will fight BJP heavyweight Bhalchandra Shirsat.
“In my ward, 55% are Marathi voters, only 35% are Gujarati voters,” Bhanushali added.
First-time candidate Jayshree Anil Mistry from ward 21 (Charkop/R-South), said the Sena was synonymous with BMC. Her party, Mistry said, has an edge over BJP as it has a strong base.
“The Sena has a strong presence at the grassroots. Not just Marathi leaders, there have been many Gujarati leaders in the shakhas for many years. I am sure the community will rally around me,” said Mistry, who was a school teacher.
The 58-year-old candidate said there are 10,000 Gujarati voters in her ward, which covers Poisar, Charkop in Kandivli.