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Marathi vote bank taking shape?

Raj Thackeray-led MNS was expected to eat into the Sena-BJP combine’s vote share, but hit Congress-NCP instead.

mumbai Updated: Feb 18, 2012 01:52 IST
Sayli Udas Mankikar

Is Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) chief Raj Thackeray’s call to the ‘sons of the soil’ to form a Maharashtrian vote bank – originally the clarion call of Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray – finally taking shape?

Friday’s verdict has got experts and political pundits baffled. The results went contrary to theories that were bandied about on the basis of results in the 2009 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. In both, the Maharashtrian votes were split between the Sena-BJP and the MNS, and the beneficiary was the Congress-NCP.

This meant that the Sena-BJP combine did not win even a single of the six Lok Sabha seats and won just seven out of 36 assembly seats. Going by this trend, the Sena-BJP should have lost considerable ground if the MNS polled more than 20 seats.

On Friday, this was not the case. The MNS gained 21 seats compared to the 2007 polls, but instead of damaging the chances of the saffron combine, it inflicted damage on the Congress-NCP alliance. Together, the Sena-BJP won 108 seats, while Congress-NCP could muster just 64.

In the Marathi-dominated areas, voters ensured that the Sena-BJP versus MNS contest did not help the Congress much. The subtle campaign launched by the Sena that the split in Marathi votes would help “outsiders” take over the city seems to have made the difference in the end. Statements of Congress leaders such as chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, that the Shiv Sena would soon become irrelevant, caused serious concern to the Sena’s traditional voters.

“ It’s true our traditional voters stood by us, even those who might have wavered in the assembly elections. We have retained our bastions, which are Marathi and Gujarati votes,” said Ashish Shelar, a BJP leader.

Political analyst B Venkatesh Kumar attributes this trend to the politics of identity. “There seems to be some polarisation in line with the current wave of politics of identity, especially linguistic identity, in cities such as Mumbai. It would not be surprising if this sort of vote bank is taking shape".

Political analyst Surendra Jondhale pointed to a new trend of Dalit Maharashtrians preferring MNS to RPI or Congress. “Despite the MNS winning 28 seats, the Sena-BJP has reached 108. This shows they may have eaten into the Congress-NCP share, and a large potion of this is Dalit votes. The Sena-BJP voters have put their trust back into them,” Jondhale said.

He added that a major section of the upper middle class appeared to be unhappy with the Congress. “They look at the Sena as a viable political alternative and want to maintain a status quo in power,” he said. “Another factor that stirred up the Marathi soul is said to be the CM’s comment that Bal Thackeray would become irrelevant after the BMC elections. The Congress did not concentrate on development issues but indulged in politics, and that has backfired on them.”