BMC Election 2017: Saffron (t)wins don’t have a choice but to join hands

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Awaaz kunacha? Shiv Senacha! (Whose voice rings loudest? The Shiv Sena’s!). The cry that has resonated for decades in Mumbai’s political landscape seemed to have turned to a whimper, as the Sena’s biggest political gamble of snapping ties with the Bharatiya Janata Party for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls seems to have backfired.

In what is virtually a photo finish, the Sena emerged as the single-largest party with 84 seats, with the BJP a mere two seats behind. In the event, both parties fell well short of the 114 required to take power in the 227-member BMC.

As a result, it is open season for local politics, with new, strange equations being explored by both parties in the search for power in the country’s richest civic body.

Shiv Sena and BJP sources confirmed that the two parties could enter into a fresh alliance for power. However, the BJP wants the power-sharing terms to be re-written in its favour. The Sena may also explore the possibility of an adjustment with the Congress (31 seats), NCP (9) and even arch-rival Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by Raj Thackeray (7) and smaller parties and independents (14), admitted Sena leaders.

Apart from voter fatigue and anti-incumbency, Sena leaders attributed BJP’s victory to an old, familiar bogey: non-Maharashtrian voters.

Sena sources claim that while they have managed to retain their working class base, the upper- and upper-middle class Marathi voters have shifted loyalties to the BJP, as evidenced by that party’s wins in Maharashtrian-dominated areas such as Girgaum, Mahim, Vile Parle and Gamdevi. The Sena also could not garner support from the Marathi youth and aspirational, first-time voters desirous of development and not swayed by identity politics beyond a point.

“Mumbai’s Mayor will be from the Shiv Sena,” claimed Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, while adding that the next chief minister of the state would be from the party, too.

He also called for action against those responsible for a large number of names going missing from the electoral rolls and pointed out how some Sena nominees had lost by wafer-thin margins, and the outcome in one seat (where Sena candidate Surendra Bagalkar and BJP’s Atul Shah got an equal number of votes) was decided by a draw of lots.

Thackeray could face some opposition on the mayoral selection front, though, with BJP Mumbai unit chief and MLA Ashish Shelar also claiming that the new mayor would be from his party.

At least some BJP ministers, though, took a pragmatic view of the dilemma both parties find themselves in.

“We are natural allies and will have to come together. The mandate favours the BJP and the Shiv Sena,” this minister said. At least two BJP ministers –- Finance Minister Sudhir Mungantiwar and PWD Minister Chandrakantdada Patil – have spoken in favour of this arrangement.

However, a beaming Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who led the charge in Mumbai, said that any decision about this would be taken in the meeting of the party’s core committee. “We got huge support after seeking votes in the name of transparency… this is a stamp of approval on the BJP’s work in Maharashtra,” he claimed.

A senior BJP leader from Mumbai told DNA that while the two parties could come together again after putting past bitterness behind them, the power-sharing terms would have to re-worked in favour of the BJP. The party is planning to demand that its nominees be the Mayor and the Chairman of the powerful Standing Committee, which has financial powers in the civic body that has a budget of more than Rs 37,000 crore.

“It was the Shiv Sena which snapped ties with us. So, they have to take the initiative for a patch-up,” the BJP leader claimed. Another leader of the party too claimed that they were confident of Mumbai getting a BJP Mayor and that it had managed to get the support of three independents. “There are more options on the plate, including a tie-up with the Sena … but the Sena will commit political suicide if it joins hands with the Congress,” he claimed.

A Sena leader, though, insisted they stood at an advantage while making a bid for power as they had room for manoeuvre with the Congress and the MNS, apart from going with the BJP again. The BJP, on the other hand, does not have the leeway of striking overt adjustments with the Congress, SP or NCP which puts it at a disadvantage.

A MNS leader claimed that an adjustment with the Sena was “difficult but not impossible.”

For the Shiv Sena, much depends on its control of the BMC with the nativist, sons-of-soil oriented party deriving its financial and political muscle from it.

“The difference lay in our strategies. The Shiv Sena wanted to defend its turf while we wanted to expand our base. This led to our strategy being aggressive,” said a BJP MLA from Western suburbs.

The Shiv Sena came to power on its own in 1985 and controlled the BMC until 1992. The Sena and the BJP stitched an alliance in Maharashtra in 1989, but the pre-poll arrangement fell apart in the BMC in 1992. This vote split led to the Sena losing power to the then-undivided Congress. The saffron alliance then stormed back to power in the civic body in 1997, with the Sena staying the driver’s seat until now. Whether the BJP will take over the steering wheel now remains anyone’s guess.

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