With the civic polls likely to be announced any day now, the political parties are gearing up for a major showdown in Mumbai. Since the BJP’s impressive show in Mumbai in 2014 assembly elections, the focus has been on the party’s ambitious plans to capture power in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). The past two years have seen the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena constantly trying to score over each other in their quest to win the BMC. Significantly, the constant bickering between the two ruling parties has created an impression that the contest is essentially a fight between the two. The third prominent party, the Congress, rarely figures in the discussion. As long as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are concerned, the less said the better.
Despite Mumbai Congress chief Sanjay Nirupam’s efforts to keep his party in the news and reclaim its space, the Congress is yet to give an impression that it is in the race to win the BMC. It could be because the electoral reverses the party saw in 2014 and also the party’s history with the Mumbai civic polls. In 2014 assembly elections, the Congress’ tally in Mumbai came down to 5 from 17 seats in 2009. In 2007 civic polls, the Congress had won 71 out of 227 seats with 26.38% votes. In 2012, the seats came down to 52 with 21.23% votes. The last time the Congress was in power in the BMC was during 1991-1995. It lost power in the last year of its five-year tenure after a group of its corporators defected to the Shiv Sena. Since then, the past two decades saw the Congress remaining the opposition party in the BMC even as it kept winning a sizeable number of assembly seats in Mumbai.
So, why it is that the Congress has failed to win Mumbai civic body in past two decades? There are several reasons. Party insiders often point out how the party leaders from rural Maharashtra didn’t want the party unit in Mumbai to be strong. Mumbai Congress has been a separate entity. It is not part of Maharashtra Congress. Traditionally, the Congress high command kept the identity of the Mumbai unit separate to keep a check on party leadership and chief ministers. Insiders say the Congress leaders in Delhi were wary of Maharashtra CM because of the influence he would have in the financial capital. So, they didn’t keep Mumbai Congress in his control. They also ensured it was the Mumbai Congress chief who would coordinate with the corporate sector in Mumbai and not the CM. The result: There was always uneasiness between CMs and city Congress chiefs. It also led to Shiv Sena becoming strong in Mumbai as often the rumours were spread that the Centre wanted to separate Mumbai from Maharashtra.
If this is true, the repercussions are now visible.
The political games that were played in the then ruling party were also a reason why many Maharashtrians in Mumbai did not trust Congress when it came to civic polls. Even now, they think a Shiv Sena rule in the BMC would be better to safeguard their interests. It is quite an irony that the Maharashtrians who migrated from various parts of the state would vote for the Congress back home, even vote for the Congress in assembly but prefer Shiv Sena to run the BMC. On the other hand, the Congress’ traditional vote banks in Mumbai-- Muslims, Dalits and North Indians--were divided by other parties. Samajwadi Party and lately AIMIM are eating into its Muslim votes, the RPI-Sena-BJP are taking away Dalits while BJP grabbed a share of its North Indian vote bank.
The party in Mumbai has not been as strong as that of its rivals. Rarely any efforts were taken up to rebuild the scattered organization. Instead, its top leaders in Mumbai seemed to be involved in infighting. Even in past two years, there have been several instances of one-upmanship in Mumbai Congress.
While it faced these problems, the party never made any efforts to connect with Maharashtrians or some other communities in Mumbai. It didn’t rein in the warring leaders either.
Till it resolves the problems created by its own people, winning Mumbai civic body will be a difficult task for the Congress.