Mumbaiites made a strong statement on Tuesday, with 55.28% of the city’s registered voters stepping out to vote. The maximum city’s voter turnout in the high-octane poll battle for the country’s richest civic body, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), was the highest in the past 25 years.
The turnout rose by 10.53 percentage points from the 2012 elections, which witnessed 44.75% of the electorate exercising their franchise. The turnout was 46.05% in 2007; 43.25% in 2002; 44.36% in 1997; and 49.1% in 1992.
The sharp rise in polling percentage this year could largely be a result of a polarised battle between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Going by traditional analysis, a hike in polling percentage could mean a vote against the incumbent rulers, and one for change. In this case, Shiv Sena, which has been ruling the civic body for the past 25 years, may have a reason to worry and the BJP, which successfully took over the space of the opposition after the allies snapped ties this year, could benefit.
The BJP, however, has a lot of ground to cover, as it had only 31 corporators in the BMC. To emerge as the single-largest party, the BJP will need a three-fold increase in the number of seats it wins this time around.
Political observers said one of the primary reasons for the high voter turnout is the Sena and BJP having worked overtime to get their “committed voter” to cast votes. “It seems the sharply polarised poll fight between the Sena and BJP has ensured that both worked on mobilising their voters, leading to an overall surge,” said Prakash Bal, political analyst. “Is it a vote for change, or of community and party polarisation? One can’t be sure about that right now.”
A preliminary analysis of the voting percentage reveals there has been a spike across the city’s 24 administrative wards, with C-ward (Chira Bazaar, Chandanwadi in island city) having the lowest (45.36%) and R-central ward (Borivli) witnessing the highest (61%) turnout. The numbers show that the western suburbs – predominant Gujarati community voter base, which traditionally votes for BJP – have stepped out to vote, and so have people from the Marathi heartland – Worli, Mahim – where both administrative wards (G-south and G-north) witnessed a surge of 6% to 10% over the last election.
Even the tony Malabar Hill – again seen as BJP stronghold – witnessed a rise in turnout from 41.11% in the last polls to 48% this year.
The India Today-Axis exit polls, released on Tuesday evening, indicated a close contest, with the Sena predicted to win 86 to 92 seats and the BJP coming a close second with 80 to 88 seats. Congress, the poll revealed, would be a distant third with 30 to 34 seats. The exit poll also predicted that Sena would get a clear majority in Thane, while the BJP would win the Pune and Nagpur civic bodies.
If the battle for BMC gets too close to call, a post-poll alliance between the Sena and the BJP will become inevitable. The “unhappy marriage” between the saffron allies may then continue and get even bitter.
While a surge for the BJP in Mumbai will be a feather in the cap of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, the Sena, if it manages to spring a surprise by getting close to 100 seats, would try and wrest control of the BMC with the help of smaller parties and independents. An upper hand for Uddhav Thackeray’s party would mean a headache for Fadnavis, who will have to deal with a more belligerent ally in the state government.
Although the voter turnout was high, the polling process was marred by several glitches as several citizens complained about their names going missing from the electoral rolls. Officials said there could have been technical errors owing to redrawing of civic boundaries. Parties insisted the polling percentage would have risen further but for the missing names.
It was also the first time NOTA (None of the Above) option was made available to the voters in a civic election. And, for the first time, the state election commission (SEC) also took an initiative of detailing candidates’ basic information, including education, assets and criminal records, at polling stations.
Matangi Balaji, a resident of Mulund East, after checking the flex board displayed outside the polling booth, said, “I voted NOTA (None of the Above) as none of the candidates were educated enough.”