The decision of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to jointly contest the Mumbai civic polls will impact political equations, with the saffron combine likely finding it more tough to defend its bastion of the past 17 years.
The alliance, announced on Tuesday, has turned the multi-cornered contest into a triangular fight between the saffron combine, the NCP-Congress alliance and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
The Congress hopes this fight will work in its favour. In the BMC polls where the victory margins are low, 500 to 1,000 votes can swing fortunes. “In 2007, our estimate was that the NCP upset our chances in nearly 60 seats,” said a Congress leader, requesting anonymity. The assumption is also that the MNS will eat into the saffron combine’s voteshare.
Not all’s sorted between the allies yet. There’s likely to be friction over the seats they want to contest from. Though the NCP has agreed to 58 seats instead of the 65 it had demanded, it has the Congress’ assurance that it will get the seats it has selected. Twelve seats are wards where Congress candidates stood second in 2007.
“It’s a politically viable alliance because the saffron combine has to fight on two fronts, the ruling alliance and the MNS. The past elections show the MNS is capable of upsetting not just the Sena but also the BJP’s calculations,” said Surendra Jondhale, political analyst. “If the allies stay honest with each other, it could change the BMC’s composition.”
The 2009 Lok Sabha and state Assembly polls, which saw a triangular fight, worked to the advantage of the Congress-NCP alliance, one reason why the Congress has been so uncharacteristically mellow. But what has prompted the NCP, which has only 14 BMC corporators, to form an alliance when it is not expected to benefit in a big way?
The party wants to extend its reach from rural to urban areas. While it has done well in small towns - as seen in the recent municipal council polls - and has established its hold on Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad, Mumbai has never been its stronghold.
“We are looking at it from the perspective of the 2014 Assembly polls. It is important to dislodge the Sena and the BJP. The Sena draws its power from the BMC. If it’s out, there is a larger role for us to play and a greater chance to grow in Mumbai,” said Sachin Ahir, NCP leader and minister of state for housing.
The Sena said it is not worried. “The Congress and the NCP - separate or together - are not going to dislodge us in Mumbai. Why should people vote for them? Citizens have only seen scams and suffered due to price rise under them,” said Sena leader Subhash Desai.
The Sena does not consider the MNS a worthy opponent. “Our main fight is with the Congress. The MNS doesn’t count,” he said.