2019 Lok Sabha elections: Marathi manoos key factor in Mumbai North East
Will the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Manoj Kotak win the Mumbai North East constituency and break the tradition of no single party winning two consecutive terms? Or, will Nationalist Congress Party’s Sanjay Patil recapture it, after losing to Kirit Somaiya in 2014? Seven lakh Maharashtrian voters will decide.
Maharashtrians, 46% of the voters in this constituency, are being wooed by both the parties – the BJP and NCP. While the BJP has taken a chance by replacing Somaiya with a lesser known face (Manoj Kotak), former MP Sanjay Patil’s campaign is centered around the Marathi manoos. This also explains why the BJP chose to drop its sitting MP Somaiya, who was being opposed by the Shiv Sena. The Sena has two MLAs elected from the Maharashtrian-dominated Bhandup and Vikhroli Assembly segments. Besides, the party has an influence over areas in Mulund and some other areas in the constituency, where Maharashtrian population lives in significant numbers. The Sena support is key for the BJP’s success – in 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the presence of a strong Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) candidate had led to the BJP’s defeat. The BJP leaders are confident about Gujarati voters who would strongly come out to vote owing to the Modi factor. But can the Sena workers ensure most of the seven lakh Maharashtrians in the constituency vote for Kotak?
The Sena faces a challenge in convincing its traditional voters why the party teamed up with the BJP again, after criticising PM Modi and the BJP for four years. Still, the Sena workers will surely step out to help Kotak – after all, one of the reasons why the BJP replaced its sitting MP was opposition by the Sena. Expectedly, the local Sainiks have upped their campaign in the constituency. “It is a matter of prestige for the Sena now as they opposed Somaiya’s candidature,” said a ward-level president of a political party, who did not wish to be named. Another local activist from Ghatkopar, Rahul Kamble, said, “The seat is Kotak’s only if Sena workers campaign hard for him.”
Local Sainiks opposed Somaiya’s candidature as they were upset with his comments on Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray before the 2017 civic elections. Somaiya had said the BMC was in “the grip of a powerful mafia” controlled by “a saheb from Bandra and his PA”.
“There is a divide among Maharashtrian voters. The upper castes have been keen to vote for the BJP due to Modi. We will need the Sena to convince other castes within the Maharashtrians,” said a senior BJP leader, who did not wish to be named.
The Mumbai North-east constituency spans from Mulund, with its gated housing societies, to the working class locales of Bhandup and the shanties in Mankhurd. The hill slopes of the Ghatkopar-Mulund belt also have sprawling slum pockets. The Gujarati and Jain community, consisting of powerful businessmen, have pledged their support to BJP’s Kotak.
There are two other factors at play in the constituency that is spread from Mulund to Mankhurd: MNS and Dalit-Muslim voters. The BJP-Sena has to factor in the MNS’ support to the NCP as the Raj Thackeray-led party has some presence in these pockets and has also performed a shade better in this constituency in the previous elections. In the 2009 elections, the MNS had given a ticket to Shishir Shinde who got 1.95 lakh votes. In 2014, it did not contest the election and announced support to the BJP. In that election, Somaiya won by more than 3 lakh votes.
Birju Mundra, a local resident of Mulund, said, “The MNS still has the capacity to influence Marathi voters here, so it can make a dent in BJP’s chances.”
The MNS’ support could be a shot in the arm for Patil. MNS chief Raj Thackeray is addressing a public meeting in Bhandup on Wednesday. The constituency has a considerable presence of Dalit voters, especially in Kannamwar Nagar of Vikhroli and Ramabai Nagar of Ghatkopar. While the Congress-NCP is expecting their votes, Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi will probably walk away with a significant chunk, disturbing Patil’s calculations. Ramabai Nagar had witnessed an incident during the Sena-BJP regime in 1997 when 10 Dalits were killed in police firing following protests against desecration of a statue of Dr B R Ambedkar. The constituency has 15% Muslim voters from the Mankhurd-Shivaji Nagar belt, but their votes are expected to split between the Congress-NCP and BSP-Samajwadi Party.