The Shiv Sena came to power for the fifth time in a row in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, with its nominee Vishwanath Mahadeshwar elected Mumbai’s 76th mayor on Wednesday with the backing of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Mahadeshwar, an educationist and three-term councillor, defeated Congress candidate Vithal Lokare by securing 171 votes in the house of 227. The Sena’s councillor from Worli, Hemangi Worlikar, was elected deputy mayor.
Though the BJP backed the Sena, it was clear their ties would remain stormy.
The new mayor did not thank the BJP in his speech and Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray remained combative as ever in his references to the BJP.
Thackeray, who visited the civic house soon after Mahadeshwar was declared elected, thanked Mumbaikars and the Marathi Manoos for the victory.
“Without crumbling under pressure we showed our rivals who is the number one party in Mumbai,” he said in an apparent jibe at the BJP.
The two parties had parted ways after a quarter of a century and contested the civic polls separately. After a lot of posturing by both sides the BJP, which won 82 seats to the Sena’s 84, decided not to contest the mayoral election, but its leaders have put the Sena on notice.
Manoj Kotak group leader of BJP, said, “On orders from our party’s city chief to support Sena, we did. We will work as watchdogs in the civic body and will support or oppose depending on how transparent a proposal is.”
Another BJP leader, who asked not to be named was even more forthright.
“Matoshree’s [Uddhav Thackeray’s residence] authoritarian control over the BMC is over. The Sena will be under pressure to deliver but at the same time it will be under our constant scrutiny,” he said.
“The Congress has the numbers to help the Sena in the civic body but they will be forced to target the latter instead of cosying up to the Sena,” he added.
On Wednesday, the Congress’s mayoral candidate got just 31 votes, with the Nationalist Congress Party and the Samajwadi Party abstaining. The Sena’s 171 votes included its 84 members and four independents, BJP’s 82 and Geeta Gawli of the Akhil Bharatiya Sena. Seven members of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena remained absent.
Winning the mayoral elections will probably be the easy part for Thackeray and his party. The tough part will be ruling the civic body for the next five years, especially during the next two and a half years in the run-up to the 2019 assembly polls. The Sena doesn’t have a clear majority in the civic house. It has 88 members (including 4 independents) on its side and is 26 short of a simple majority. This means it will have to rely on either the BJP or smaller parties such as the NCP, MNS and Samajwadi Party to get its proposals passed in the civic general body. This will be sharp in contrast with what the Sena was doing for past two decades. It was clearly the largest party and Matoshree’s writ ran large in the BMC headquarters. Now, it is up against an aggressive and expansionist BJP, which can be expected to team up with the opposition to corner the Sena over certain issues. Further, the Sena will have limited say in the civic decision making as the municipal commissioner has more powers and he reports to the urban development department headed by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
This means the acrimony witnessed during in the civic polls will continue. A glimpse of what is to come was visible on Wednesday as the mayor was elected. While the Sena corporators were hailing Thackeray, BJP members responded with slogans hailing Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
For Mahadeshwar who won by a huge margin of 140 votes, the ride may not be smooth personally either. He stands accused of grabbing a flat meant for BMC employees and of taking a salary from a government-aided college. The charges if proved can get him disqualified.
“I will make sure that various projects of the BMC are fast tracked so that better services can be given to the citizens,” he said.
The Shiv Sena staged a show of strength outside the civic headquarters after it won the mayoral election. Thackeray addressed the crowd from a makeshift stage alongwith the newly elected mayor. In a victory march later, Thackeray along with son and Yuva Sena chief Aditya Thackeray marched on foot to Hutatma Chowk, memorial to martyrs ofin the Samyukta Maharashtra Movement. They were accompanied by the Mayor and newly elected Sena corporators. At Hutatma Chowk, too, Thackeray took potshots at the BJP, in an indication that the tussle was far from over though the civic polls are. “Our fight against hypocrisy will continue,” he told the media. He also said the Shiv Sena will continue to demand loan waiver for farmers in the state — an issue which is being pushed jointly by the Sena and the Opposition Congress and NCP. Though they may continue sniping at each other, both the Sena and the BJP need each other to continue in power – the BJP in the state and the Sena in Mumbai.