“Good luck,” says 45-year-old homemaker Shilpa Paradkar, smiling as she presses a spoonful of sugar into the local MNS candidate’s palm.
As he leaves, she turns around, brow furrowed.
“I would do the same for a Shiv Sena candidate,” she says. “After all, he too represents the Thackerays.”
Paradkar and her neighbours at Siddhivinayak Colony, a seven-storey apartment block in Mahim, can hand out sugar for good luck to the Shiv Sena and MNS alike.
But they can only vote for one. And which one it should be is a dilemma they have not yet solved.
“There is a huge similarity between Raj and Balasaheb. He talks just like saheb, and his views are similar,” says Paradkar, coming to the heart of the matter. “Raj’s MNS appeals to youngsters, but it is [Sena chief] Balasaheb who gave Maharashtrians their identity.”
The founder of the Shiv Sena and his estranged nephew’s three-year-old Maharashtra Navnirman Sena will come head-to-head in the state for the first time on October 13.
And the result of this divide in the Thackeray clan is a profound confusion among Marathi voters loyal to the family.
“From the time this building was a chawl, we have been with the Sena,” says Suman Takle (61), who lives a few flats away from Paradkar. “We are still Shiv Sainiks, but our children are mesmerised by Raj.”
This dilemma was reflected in the results of the Lok Sabha election held earlier this year, where the Sena did not win a single seat in Mumbai, while the MNS outpolled the party in 10 of the city’s 36 Assembly segments — all of which were once Sena bastions.
“The voters are confused,” says political commentator and former editor Aroon Tikekar. “There are differences within Maharashtrian families… while the youth is attracted to the MNS, the Sena has learnt its lesson with the last election and is trying to make a comeback.”
This time around, Mahim, Worli, Sewri and Bandra East are likely to see a close fight between the two Senas.
In some cases, the voter’s decision is made even harder by the fact that both parties’ candidates were once with the Sena, and both have worked for the local community.
Dindoshi resident Suman Joshi (47), for instance, is finding it hard to choose between Shalini Thackeray (MNS) and Sunil Prabhu (Shiv Sena).
“Prabhu has done some good work here, and Raj seems so promising,” he says. “I don’t know whom to vote for.”