Mumbai Lok Sabha elections: A litmus test for the future of Shiv Sena factions - Hindustan Times
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Mumbai Lok Sabha elections: A litmus test for the future of Shiv Sena factions

May 19, 2024 10:56 PM IST

Mumbai's Lok Sabha elections are influenced by significant demographic shifts and changing voter loyalties. The results will set the tone for upcoming elections

On the evening of May 13, a sudden dust storm took Mumbai by surprise and led to the collapse of a massive hoarding in Ghatkopar, an eastern suburb of the city. The incident led to the death of at least 16 people and injured over 70 others, sparking a lot of outrage among citizens who raised questions about the cost of human lives in a city that contributes the highest taxes in the country.

Mumbai: A message displayed on Bandra-Worli Sea Link urging people to vote on May 20, the fourth phase of Lok Sabha elections, in Mumbai, Saturday, May 18, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI05_18_2024_000461B)(PTI) PREMIUM
Mumbai: A message displayed on Bandra-Worli Sea Link urging people to vote on May 20, the fourth phase of Lok Sabha elections, in Mumbai, Saturday, May 18, 2024. (PTI Photo)(PTI05_18_2024_000461B)(PTI)

Even as the rescue operations in Ghatkopar were going on, election campaigning continued in full swing in various parts of the city. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s roadshow on May 15 passed just a short distance from the site. Barely a day after the tragic incident, the city’s commuters were inconvenienced again due to road diversions and the suspension of metro services for some time due to the rally. It again highlighted how political parties are ignorant of the plight of the voters who elect them to power.

A decisive election for Shiv Sena (UBT) and Shinde-led Shiv Sena

As the maximum city — with nearly 10 million voters and 6 Lok Sabha seats — gears up to vote in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections on May 20, the stakes have never been higher for the two Shiv Sena factions. The poll outcomes in the bustling metropolis will be instrumental in shaping the future of key political parties and leaders.

Shiv Sena’s appeal among Mumbai’s residents, especially the Marathi manoos has helped the Sena-BJP alliance establish their dominance here. This time, however, the situation is complex. After the fallout in the undivided Shiv Sena and Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) alliance post-2019 and the vertical split in the party in 2022 with Sena leader Eknath Shinde joining hands with the BJP-led Mahayuti alliance, the elections in Mumbai are now a litmus test for the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena and the Shinde-led Sena to assert themselves as the real representatives of the city residents. In three of the six seats in Mumbai — Mumbai South, Mumbai South Central and Mumbai North West — Sena vs Sena battles will take place, creating confusion among local cadre and loyal voters.

“While a large proportion of the Shiv Sena’s shakha (branch) level cadre is still backing the Uddhav-led party, many are very close to the Shinde-led Sena. Since several leaders have moved to Shinde’s side, it is challenging for grassroots supporters to pick sides. On the one hand, they want to remain loyal to Bal Thackeray’s legacy and support Uddhav but also want to back the person who has more power and influence in the current political scenario,” said a senior Shiv Sena worker from Mumbai North West.

At the same time, the Thane and Kalyan seats, which will also see a similar face-off between the two Senas, are a prestige battle for Eknath Shinde, often regarded as the ‘king of Thane’, due to the influence that he holds in the region. Uddhav Thackeray, his son Aaditya; and Eknath Shinde and his son, Shrikant Shinde are aggressively campaigning across Mumbai, trying to mobilise voters in every possible way.

The Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navanirman Sena’s decision to support the Mahayuti alliance has made things more complex for Marathi voters in the city who supported Thackeray when he criticised the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance ahead of the 2019 elections. With Thackeray aggressively campaigning for the Mahayuti, one has to see whether this is successful in swinging his supporters towards the alliance.

Party Wise Seat Position 1991-2019 Lok Sabha(Sanjay Patil)
Party Wise Seat Position 1991-2019 Lok Sabha(Sanjay Patil)

A precursor to future elections

The elections in Mumbai and adjoining regions such as Thane, Kalyan, Bhiwandi and Palghar which are set to vote on May 20 in the last phase of elections are also seen as a precursor to the elections to the Vidhan Sabha and the local bodies that follow later this year. For the Mahayuti, a strong performance in the Lok Sabha elections could solidify its standing and pave the way for future electoral successes in Maharashtra. PM Modi’s roadshow, the Mahayuti’s sabha in Dadar’s Shivaji Park and the aggressive campaign push by the alliance highlight how significant the Mumbai elections are for its electoral fortunes.

The BJP, which earlier relied on Shiv Sena for attaining power in Mumbai, may get a large chunk of the credit if the Mahayuti succeeds. This may increase the national party’s power in the state, particularly in Mumbai, which will help the party fight Uddhav-led Sena’s dominance in the country’s richest civic body — the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation.

For the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), made up of the Congress, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congres Party and Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), this is a time to bank on its short-lived glory post-2019. The campaign against gaddaars (traitors) launched by the MVA has captivated the attention of many citizens who are angry about leaders switching sides for political gains and to cover up allegations and charges of corruption against them. The MVA may mutually benefit from their alliance and may be able to consolidate votes against the BJP in the state effectively. Similarly, the support that the MVA is getting from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and the Communist Party of India along with allies in the INDIA bloc can be a crucial game-changer.

 

Party Wise Seat Position 1990-2019 Vidhan Sabha
Party Wise Seat Position 1990-2019 Vidhan Sabha

Demographic shifts and voter behaviour

In addition to the abovementioned highlights, one of the most important factors that are likely to influence the elections in Mumbai is the demographic shifts that the city has seen due to development projects over the last decade. This demographic shift is likely to impact traditional voting patterns. For instance, central Mumbai (which includes areas such as Parel, Lalbaug and Naigaon) has seen a huge boom in skyscrapers and corporates over the last few years. Several old structures that once housed middle-class locals at one point are making way for tall complexes where the new elites across communities have moved in. Similarly, a large proportion of the new middle class is moving to the far-end suburbs in search of affordable living conditions. It is also important to note that this time, due to shifting alliances, we see a huge shift in loyalties of certain traditional demographic dynamics. For instance, the Muslims in the city, which have always voted for secular parties like the Congress, NCP and Samajwadi Party in the past are now seen attending the sabhas of Shiv Sena (UBT) candidates, seemingly in a bid to challenge BJP’s right-wing politics.

As the campaign trail concludes on Saturday evening, it remains unclear if the elections and their results will yield any relief for the lakhs of voters in the city who grapple with some crucial issues — crumbling infrastructure, rising prices and shrinking space for housing, poor public transport facilities and the pressure on healthcare facilities to name a few.

“Even as six prominent parties battle to capture power in the city, the agenda of the common man is absent in the grand campaigns that focus on a show of strength and name-calling opponents,” said senior political journalist and analyst Prakash Akolkar.

As Mumbai grapples with an array of challenges amidst the fervour of election campaigns, the choices made by its voters on May 20 will shape the trajectory of political alliances and governance in the city and the state of Maharashtra. These elections will serve as a critical indicator of public sentiment and redefine the power balance in the state, setting the stage for the forthcoming Vidhan Sabha and local body elections later this year.

Dr. Sanjay Patil is a Mumbai-based researcher who works on Maharashtra Politics and Urban Informality. His doctoral work looks at the journey of Shiv Sena between 1985 and 2022.

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