Shiv Sena 84, BJP 82; Fadnavis is the winner

Congress, faced a near wipeout in Mumbai, winning just 31 seats, its poorest show so far in the past 25 years

mumbai Updated: Feb 24, 2017 01:51 IST
Shiv Sena,BJP,Devendra Fadnavis
Shiv Sena and BJP flags fly high while votes are counted in a municipal school at Andheri on Thursday.(Satish Bate/HT PHOTO)

The city turned saffron on Thursday with Mumbaiites splitting their mandate almost equally in favour of the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). There was, however, no clear winner in the contest to wrest control of the country’s richest civic body, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), as the saffron parties contested as opponents and not allies.

While the Sena won 84 seats, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came in a close second with 82 seats, a stunning performance as it almost tripled its tally from 31 seats in the 2012 BMC polls.

Meanwhile, the main opposition party, Congress, faced a near wipeout in Mumbai, winning just 31 seats, its poorest show so far in the past 25 years, and probably the worst-ever in the city where it was founded. The party’s Mumbai unit chief Sanjay Nirupam resigned, owning up responsibility for the debacle. In a polarised contest between the Sena and BJP, the room for other political parties also shrunk considerably, with Nationalist Congress Party (9), Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (7), Samajwadi Party (2) reduced to single digits. The All India Majlis-e-Itehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) made an entry into the civic body, but managed to win only 2 seats.

While the Sena managed to retain majority of its Marathi vote bank, the BJP’s upsurge in Mumbai proved that the former’s three-decade hold over its citadel is slipping and could be up for grabs in the next elections. The BJP’s win in the city came primarily at the cost of Congress, but it also made progress in Sena strongholds, proving that the ‘Marathi manoos’ may no longer be only loyal to the latter.

There are indications that both Sena and BJP will try to stake claim over the Mayor’s post. However, they may have no alternative but to get into a post-poll alliance, just like they did at the state level after the 2014 Assembly polls.

But unlike in the state government, when Sena is the junior partner, both parties will have equal powers in the Mumbai civic body. How the parties negotiate the alliance – given the barbs they exchanged during campaigning and the Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s decision to go contest solo – remains to be seen.

Sources said the BJP would call for a common minimum programme for the next five years that will include its transparency agenda and sharing of the Mayor’s post for two-and-a-half years. These negotiations are likely to play out over the next few days, with neither party willing to blink first.

Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who called it an “unprecedented victory for the BJP” and a vote in favour of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agenda for transparency and development, said, “It is clear that the transparency agenda that we flagged got a lot of support from citizens. We contested 195 seats and won 81 seats. Also, in this polarised fight, there are nearly 20 seats that we lost by a very minor margin.”

In an indication that a tug-of-war over the Mayor’s post was on the cards, BJP’s Mumbai unit chief Ashish Shelar said the party had an understanding with four independents with whose help the BJP tally would cross the Sena.

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, however, questioned the premise of BJP’s victory, pointing out that the city had backed Sena for a fifth term in a row and it would have its own Mayor. “I am not a political commentator and I will not give any political commentary. I only do what I know best, and I will do it… what is the need to hurry [to talk about an alliance]?” said Thackeray, adding that the BJP had thrown in ample money and power in the elections and the results are no way in line with the amount they put at stake.

“The Shiv Sena is the number one party in Mumbai. We lost some seats by very few votes. One can see that there is a definite change in environment after the state legislative Assembly elections. In this election, there was money and power on one side, and the Sena’s hard work and Mumbai’s blessings on the other side,” the Sena chief said.

Thackeray also demanded an inquiry into why names of voters were missing from electoral lists at such a large scale, and sought a punishment for the State Election Commission (SEC) if it was found responsible.

However, a senior Sena leader said, “Looking at the situation, there is no option but for the two parties to come together. Even the BJP has realised that it doesn’t have the strength to have single-handed majority in either the state or the city, and it needs the Sena’s support. But then, what happens in the next Assembly elections is also a question. There will be tussles over seat sharing again.”

On the other hand, the Congress’ failure in the city of its origin is largely a result of organisational mess and internal rivalry in the city unit. The party will need to introspect if it has to make a comeback in the 2019 polls. Nirupam while taking the blame partially also pointed fingers at bigger leaders such as Narayan Rane and Gurudas Kamat, who he said contributed less. “I do take blame for the results as the party city unit chief, but the role of many big party leaders has also been suspect through this campaign. I worked hard for two years trying to improve the party’s organisational strength only to meet opposition and negativity from such leaders,” said Nirupam.

A senior Congress leader admitted that complete lack of discipline in the party, the big egos of its local city-based leaders and internal factionalism cost the party once again.

First Published: Feb 24, 2017 01:48 IST