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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

BJP, Shiv Sena look to win big in Mumbai prestige fight

In 2014, the Sena and the BJP contested separately in Mumbai and won 14 and 15 seats, respectively. The Congress won five seats while the NCP did not manage to win any.

assembly-elections Updated: Oct 07, 2019 06:00 IST
Swapnil Rawal
Swapnil Rawal
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray is one of the most high-profile candidates in the Mumbai fray.
Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray is one of the most high-profile candidates in the Mumbai fray. (PTI File)

India’s financial capital has 36 assembly constituencies that are gearing up to see a prestige fight between the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena alliance and the opposition Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) coalition in the October 21 assembly election.

The BJP-Sena alliance is focussing on infrastructure and other developmental work in the past five years and is looking for a clean sweep. The Opposition is battling infighting and desertion of some senior faces but is aiming to corner the government on civic issues like building collapses and repeated flooding of the city. In 2014, the Sena and the BJP contested separately and won 14 and 15 seats, respectively. The Congress won five seats while the NCP did not manage to win any.

Infra Agenda

For the BJP-Sena, their poll plank rests on the Devendra Fadnavis-led government’s infrastructure and development agenda. In a significant push, the state government redrew the Mumbai Metro master plan, added more lines and has put the construction of six metro corridors on track. It has also cleared long-pending road projects, including the Mumbai Trans Harbour Link.

Political analyst Deepak Pawar said the Congress-NCP government failed to showcase the work done during its 15 years in power between 1999 and 2014.

“The caucus of local level stalwarts ruled for 15 years. They developed overconfidence...they presumed that micromanagement and vote consolidation would help them keep power. They have still not realised the new matrix which evolved after social media came into the picture, which has been exploited by the BJP,” he added.

BJP leader Yogesh Sagar, who is contesting from the Charkop constituency and who was the junior urban development minister, said the saffron alliance had fulfilled its promise to the people. “The Congress-NCP had their chance but they did not do anything for 15 years. We are confident that the people of Mumbai and Maharashtra will bring us back in power.”

“It is incorrect to say that we have not pushed infrastructure development in Mumbai. We created metro masterplan, we constructed the Bandra Worli sea link, the Eastern Freeway which is a toll free road, we started the Navi Mumbai Airport. We focused on all modes of transportation while they are busy giving Metro contracts tainted companies. The International Financial Service Centre, which would have helped economy, has not come up in Mumbai. It was stopped because of GIFT City in Gujarat. The Shivaji Memorial and Ambedkar Memorial are also not delivered,” said Sachin Sawant, Maharashtra Congress spokesperson.

The Contest

The two alliances have announced their candidates for the Mumbai seats. The Shiv Sena has repeated most of its sitting legislators but the BJP has dropped cabinet minister Vinod Tawde and chief whip Rajkumar Purohit from its list. The BJP is contesting 17 seats, while the Shiv Sena is contesting on 19.

The Congress-NCP combine, which has suffered losses due to an exodus of leaders, has put up lesser-known faces.

The NCP, which has a limited presence in Mumbai, suffered a blow after his city unit chief and former Worli MLA Sachin Ahir defected to the Sena. The Congress’s former Mumbai unit chief Kripashankar Singh switched over to the BJP last month. Last week, the party’s former Mumbai unit chief Sanjay Nirupam also expressed his displeasure.

The Congress is contesting 29 seats while the NCP is fielding candidates on the remaining seven seats.

The BJP-Sena alliance is aiming to recreate its 1995 performance where it swept 31 out of the 34 seats (there were 34 seats in the city before delimitation).

According to Mumbai BJP chief and one of the candidates in the fray from Malabar Hill, Mangal Prabhat Lodha, their target given by Fadnavis is to bag all the 36 seats in the city.

Surendra Jondhale, a Mumbai-based political analyst, said that the Congress -NCP alliance would face a tough challenge.

“The Congress lost control of Mumbai due to infighting. Many Congress voters have gravitated towards the BJP that is now seen as pro-small business owners by the Gujarati, Marwari, and Jain communities. Besides, the work carried out by the BJP-led government will help them go before the people and seek votes,” Jondhale added.

Key Players and Battles

Twenty-nine-year old Aaditya Thackeray is the most high-profile candidate in the city. The first member from the Thackeray family to contest an election, he is fighting from Worli constituency in south Mumbai. The party is gunning for a record victory margin for Thackeray.

In his first electoral fight, Thackeray will square off with Suresh Mane, a backward class scholar and a candidate from the NCP. He could draw some votes from the backward class in Worli which has a mix of lower and middle-class Maharashtrians and upper-middle voters cosmopolitan voters.

The BJP-Sena alliance is also aiming to breach the last remaining strongholds of the Congress in Mumbai and its suburbs. Constituencies such as Malad west, Chandivali, Dharavi, and Wadala are held by the Congress, but hte saffron alliance has pooled in leaders and resources in these areas. They are also eyeing Byculla and Mankhurd-Shivaji Nagar seats, which were won by the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen, and the Samajwadi Party, respectively, in 2014.

For the BJP and the Sena, there is also an internal battle of which partner will win the maximum haul of seats because both parties are eyeing the Mumbai civic body polls that is due in two years. The Sena is in control of the BMC, which is Asia’s richest municipal body.