The BJP Scores Big in Maharashtra, but Remains ‘Younger Brother’ to the Shiv Sena in Mumbai

The election results show that Mumbai is changing – its demographics have altered and this has played a big role in the final numbers of both parties. The Sena’s Marathi manoos card is now not as potent as it used to be.


Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray. Credit: PTI

Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray. Credit: PTI

Three immediate conclusions can be drawn from the results of the elections to the Mumbai (and nine others) municipal corporations in Maharashtra: The BJP is on an unstoppable march in the state , never mind the hardships faced by people because of demonetisation; the Shiv Sena continues to be a force to reckon with in Mumbai; and the Congress party has little or no traction with urban voters.

The BJP has come out ahead of everyone in eight of the ten civic elections in the state, but failed to top Thane and more importantly Mumbai, the ultimate prize that it wanted. Here, the Shiv Sena, which has dominated local civic politics for over two decades and has a network of cadre and support in each corner of the city, has maintained its lead, even if it is a slender one. A loss here would have not just humiliated the domestic, nativist party but would have made it vulnerable to all sorts of pressures that the dominant BJP would have piled on. By getting two more seats than the BJP, it can maintain the attitude of being the “elder brother” to whom the younger one must pay obeisance. For the moment, the Shiv Sena can justifiably say it is the city’s primary political force. For the sainiks, Uddhav Thackeray is now the well deserving heir to his father’s legacy.

But that doesn’t tell the full story. The BJP, with its 82 seats to the Sena’s 84, is now a player in Mumbai, and with its own state and central governments, can now exert tremendous influence and in time, even work towards becoming the leading party of the metropolis. The credit of the victory should go to the hard working Devendra Fadnavis, who, helped by an expensive promotional campaign, managed to convince voters of his intentions to improve governance.

At the same time, however, the BJP’s plan of reducing the Shiv Sena to a rump in Mumbai and neighbouring Thane have failed – for the moment, it will have to contend with dealing with the party that loses no opportunity to take sharp digs at not just the national party but also its leaders, including Narendra Modi. That is designed to rile the BJP and it does.

Given the final results in Mumbai, the two allies, who can barely tolerate each other, will now have to come together. All kinds of permutations and combinations still do not add up to the magic figure of 114 to get a majority on the floor of the corporation, unless the Sena takes the outside support of the Congress. Of course splitting the Congress or indeed the Sena remains an option for the BJP, but that won’t happen immediately. Clearly therefore, the Shiv Sena and the BJP will continue to be joined at the hip, just like in the state government.

But this will not come without a price, which both will try and extract. The Sena, humiliated to have unimportant ministries in the state, will want better portfolios, which the BJP will be loath to give and in turn, the BJP will demand leadership of important committees in the civic body, where the real power lies. In addition there is the post of the mayor, a largely ceremonial but prestigious position which both have publicly said they want. It is possible that both parties will work out a compromise formula soon which allows them to claim a victory, but there is no guarantee that the mutual sniping will stop. The Sena, feeling humiliated and in constant need to assert its number uno position in Mumbai, rarely gives up a chance to criticise the BJP and the latter continues with its passive aggressive ways to show up the Sena as corrupt-during the campaign for the elections, the buzzword was ‘transparency in governance’, which angered the Sena since its implied the corporation was opaque and thus riddled with corruption.

The bigger lesson to draw from the election results is that Mumbai is changing – its demographics have altered and this has played a big role in the final numbers of both parties. The old Marathi manoos card of the Sena is now less potent than it used to be, because many of the city’s Maharashtrians have moved out from their old neighbourhoods to remote suburbs but also because young and upwardly mobile Maharashtrians see less value in going with a local party that focuses on nativist issues than with a national one that is focused on development. Since there is little to choose between the two as far as Hindutva is concerned, why follow a party that has nothing to offer in terms of jobs or economic growth?

Given this, the BJP has made inroads into the Sena’s territory while the latter cannot do the same with the BJP – Gujaratis are its core audience with support coming in from north Indians as well as Maharashtrians. The Sena will now have to ponder over this closely if it wants to survive and thrive in the long run.

As for the Congress, riddled with internal fighting that was embarrassingly public and a lack of an acceptable face or programme, it has been a steep and continuous slide. Indeed, even its 31 seats is a bit of a surprise-the very high decibel conflict between the BJP and the Shiv Sena was distracting enough to push everything off the front pages, ensuring that the other parties were not heard at all. The once all-powerful party cannot seem to impress and excite citizens in urban areas – in Pune it got two seats – though it can nurse its wounds by thinking about the 300 plus village level parishads that it won. Nothing seems to be working for the Congress in the cities any more.

The citizen in Mumbai – and other cities – however will now wonder whether her life will change at all. The BJP campaigned to show that the Shiv Sena’s governance in the BMC was shoddy (exemplified by the poor condition of roads and other examples of deteriorating infrastructure) conveniently ignoring that it too was part of the ruling set up for 22 years. Now both may once again come together – even if they don’t, the Sena will be back in the driver’s seat. Will life in Mumbai now improve? Going by the experience of the last two decades, the answer, sadly, might well be in the negative.

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  • ashok759

    These elections have once again shown that the SS is not a full fledged regional party that can dominate an entire state, like the TMC in Bengal, for instance. It remains Bombay centric, which is a precarious perch, considering that the city is only 24% Maharashtrian. At some point, shat pratishat BJP may come to pass, but it is equally possible that the tsunami of 2014 may be difficult to replicate in Delhi. That is when allies who felt like an appendix might prove their worth. So it would be wise for the two allies to sit together, in a spirit of generosity, give the SS a better deal at the centre and in the state, create conditions for better governance and lock in both the Lok Sabha and the Assembly for 2019 as far as Maharashtra is concerned. 2. Devendra Fadnavis is clearly a rising star in the BJP firmament.