Lok Sabha elections 2019: Marathi heartland still beats for the Shiv Sena
While the popular sentiment of voters in the Dadar-Lalbaug-Parel belt continues a tradition of being in favour of the Shiv Sena, there are some exceptions.
In Mumbai’s Marathi heartland, traditional supporters are not pleased about Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to join forces with the BJP after having criticised the party and PM Narendra Modi for most of its tenure.
The Sena, when it was formed in Mumbai in 1966 with the core motive of protecting Maharashtrian interests, got good support among Maharashtrian mill workers living in the Dadar-Lalbaug-Parel belt, which was also known as Girangaon (village of mills).
The textile mills are history now, but the largely Maharashtrian area continues to support Sena. Six months after Modi came to power, the BJP and Sena contested separately in the Assembly polls. Although BJP did well with the Modi wave still effective, the Marathi heartland largely remained with the Sena. Three Assembly seats in Dadar, Parel, Worli were won by the Sena. Thackeray had launched an aggressive campaign, targeting not just the incumbent Congress-NCP government, but even BJP and PM Modi.
Dilip Awati, 71, a resident of Dadar, said, “Around 80% of the people are voting for BJP- Sena. If Sena had contested separately, people would have voted for Sena. While some voters are Sena loyalists, others have no other option and do not identify with the Congress.”
The belt is increasingly developing a cosmopolitan flavour, replete with business hubs and restaurants, with the land belonging to erstwhile textile mills opened for commercial development. These areas fall under two parliamentary constituencies — Mumbai South and Mumbai South Central — both held by the Sena.
Marathi manoos in these areas is still bound to the Sena, despite many loyalists disappointed by the party’s alliance with BJP, contrary to repeated promises in the past of going solo this time. Arvind Sawant, the Sena MP from Mumbai South, is banking on votes from this area.
Many households here have at least one member who has worked with the Sena during its formative years with late party supremo Bal Thackeray. These residents identify with the party’s main agenda.
Chandrakant Bhatkar, 70, a resident of Elphinstone Road, said, “The Sena has been representing the common Marathi for four decades now. It is important for Marathi speakers in the city to find apt representation in the government or our demands will be completely sidelined.”
These Mumbaiites have stuck with Sena through thick and thin for over twenty years, proof of which is the party’s hold over BMC for 25 years.
Shashank Dhargalkar, 34, a resident of Girgaum , said, “The Sena’s agenda is still relevant to Marathi speakers who have lived in Mumbai for two or three generations now.”
In some cases, Marathi-speaking voters do not see an alternative party to vote for and would hence rather stick to their traditional choice.
During the 2009 and 2014 Lok Sabha elections, voters saw an alternative in the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), an offshoot and rival party of the Sena, formed in 2006.
Awati said, “People do not have a better option. The Congress has no face in our area and no local-level leaders. The MNS was an option in 2009, and 2014, but it is not contesting the elections this year.” Awati added.
Some voters believe MNS votes from the previous elections are likely to go to Sena this time.
Parag Patole, 27, a resident of Lalbaug, said, “I would have voted for MNS or another party that is concerned about our issues, but there is no such candidate. In my area, 75% of the voters will vote for Sena.”
Some voters believe the Sena is losing its old charm, but they will continue to vote for the party anyway.
Sachin Hate, 40, a resident of Elphinstone, said, “After Sena joined hands with BJP, it hurt the sentiments of some Marathi voters. But voters discount this as politics and go in favour of the Sena for more personal reasons.”