Wednesday may have been the Shiv Sena’s day in the sun, as it seated its mayor Vishwanath Mahadeshwar, but running the Mumbai civic body is going to be a tightrope walk for the party.
The Shiv Sena has held the reins of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) for two decades — always being miles ahead of the other parties in terms of its strength in the house.
The 2017 verdict, however, delivered a fractured mandate and the Sena got just two seats more than friend-turned-foe Bharatiya Janata Party. This means, for every major decision in the house, the Sena will have to expend time and effort to get the BJP on board, or bolster its numbers by talking to smaller parties.
There will also be immense pressure on Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray to perform, as he had taken the lead to splinter the alliance with the BJP before the polls. As this is Sena’s fifth straight term with most numbers, there could be a rise in anti-incumbency sentiments if it fails.
The BJP’s strategy also has the Sena on edge. Mangesh Satamkar, a Sena corporator from Sion, said, “The BJP’s strategy is still unclear. They were posturing in a way, as though they were preparing to fight us in the BMC. But at the eleventh hour, they decided to give up the mayor’s post, and even voted for our candidates on Wednesday. We will know only once the house has two or three meetings if their support is two-faced. The Sena will have to determine its strategy accordingly.”
The Sena has the highest numbers in the house — 84 votes and the support of four more independents. If the BJP wants to stall or push proposals against the Sena’s wish, it will have to cozy up to other parties. “Within a few meetings, we will know what BJP’s equations with other parties on the floor are,” he said.
The BJP has often clashed with the Sena in the BMC, even when the two parties were partners in administration, especially over the past two years when relations got increasingly choppy. The two parties, still allies at the state and Centre, did not see eye-to-eye on several issues related to the civic body, such as an unconditional approval to Mumbai’s participation in the Centre’s smart cities scheme, giving BMC land for construction of a Metro corridor, policies for parking and open spaces, among others. In 2015, the BJP and Sena were directly pitted against each other over the controversial issue of closing abattoirs during the Jain festival of Paryushan. Despite these differences, however, BJP corporators never ended up voting against the Sena while the two were allies. This time, the situation is vastly different. The two parties are already at loggerheads, having called each other ‘goons’ and ‘extortionists’, during campaigns. The BJP almost trebled its strength in BMC, and has declared it will act as a watchdog to ensure transparency — the very tool it used to berate Sena during campaigning .
Sunil Shinde, Sena legislator who was a senior corporator feels the slim difference between the parties’ votes and recent tussles will not hamper decisions important to citizens . It may come in the way where there are ideological differences. “Everyone wants a Metro, but Sena is asking if it should be built in a green zone. Even these issues can be solved with discussions. The chairmen of committees need to be capable of reasoning with corporators and getting them on board.”