Mumbai: The results of the BMC elections, though not quite the subject of nail-biting anticipation, must have evoked a heaving sigh of relief for the Shiv Sena-BJP combine, whose political future was uncertain after its dismal performance in the State Assembly elections in 2009, not to mention the polls for over 190 municipal councils last December.
Despite having narrowly escaped the threat posed by the Congress-NCP combine it has been anything but a sweeping victory for the combine, as it has fallen well short of the mark by eight seats. Its victory is also dubious in the fact that the numbers of winning seats have dwindled from 85 in 2007 to 76 in 2012. With every successive civic election, the party's tally seems to be dipping inexorably. Inexplicably, its alliance partner BJP somehow managed to improve on its earlier tally going from 28 to 29.
The original assumption doing the rounds was that the Sena-BJP nexus had little to offer to Mumbai voters with their increasing penchant for following global trends. The crumbling infrastructure, rampant corruption and inefficiency in the civic administration, and the pothole-riddled roads did little to help.
The campaign in the run-up to the elections was quite exciting and dramatic, though. CM Prithviraj Chavan, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena Executive Chief Uddhav Thackeray sparred and parried, while Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray surprised all by extending an olive branch to estranged kin Raj. In response, the MNS chief said he was ready to meet the patriarch half way, but would not budge for Uddhav and his coterie.
Cong's pain, Sena's gain
The familial drama, high-strung enough to give any K-serial a run for its money, had Sena sympathisers riveted, rapt in attention. Though the MNS did not so much as make a dent in the Shiv Sena-BJP vote bank, they did manage to woo a sizeable chunk of the Marathi vote bank that was earlier in the vice-like grip of the Congress-NCP alliance. Despite their strategic move to unite their forces, neither the Congress nor the NCP could repeat their 2007 performance -- Congress' numbers dwindled from 71 to 53, and NCP's tally from 14 to 13.
The voters who bailed out on the formidable Congress-NCP alliance proved match-winners for the saffron alliance, as Congress-NCP tally dwindled from 85 to 66, a considerable deterioration from its erstwhile 85. Their loss turned out to be MNS' gain of Sena-BJP.
But even a few days ago, the atmosphere at Matoshree was taut with anxiety.
A desperate and anxious Uddhav first conducted a confidential survey of all 227 wards, meticulously chalking out a list of probable winners and prospective rebels. He took pains to announce his chosen list of candidates well after the deadline, so that prospective rebels had nowhere to defect to. Thackeray Jr was so consumed and engrossed with the BMC poll calculations that he did not address a single rally for the local body elections, in 27 zilla parishads and 309 panchayat samitis spanning the state.
Bal Thackeray stepped up, addressing two public rallies, and needless to say, the effect was powerful. Uddhav's decision to release tongue-in-cheek full-page ads in different print media also did the trick. And like every year, there were Sena booth chiefs stationed at all the centres, ushering in Sena sympathisers and making sure that they didn't have to wait in long lines. The Congress-NCP's combined efforts to woo voters paled in comparison to the aggressive, no-hold-barred campaign unleashed by the Sena.
Their impending victory was clear on polling day itself, with Sena bastions like Bhandup, Goregaon and parts of the western suburbs like Lalbaug and Parel registering high percentages of polling activity.
Divided they fell
The dip in the polling percentage from 47 per cent to 44.64 per cent is shocking, given the zealous civil activism by organisations to sensitise citizens about the need to go vote. As any major shift in polling percentages is seen as an indication of an anti-incumbency wave, the repeat of last election's dismal attendance rate does not bode well for the Congress-NCP, who were eager to unseat the saffron combine.
What failed the Congress-NCP was simply the sheer absence of team spirit. The fissures and cracks in the fa ade of amiability were evident even at the first joint rally in Bandra Government Colony, where not only supporters, but also prominent leaders were conspicuous by their absence.
The NCP lacked the foundation and support that is only lent to a team by good leadership. Except for its chief Sharad Pawar, none of the stalwarts - Deputy CM Ajit Pawar, Home Minister R R Patil, or City District Guardian Minister Jayant Patil - made their presence felt at the ground level, and a few road shows failed to generate enough steam. PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal was also busy at the helms for the Nashik civic polls.
Foot in the mouth?
On the eve of the elections, CM Chavan made an audacious statement, declaring confidently that after February 16, Shiv Sena would be inconsequential, and its chief Bal Thackeray would lose its clout. This statement may well have hit the nail on the coffin for the Congress-NCP this election, as it sent Sena sympathisers into a tizzy.
The insecure Marathi voter still wants Sena to maintain its presence in Mumbai.
For MNS, their tally of 28 seats, from its earlier 7, comes as little relief. The chaos in the party continued even after the exams specially conducted to finalise the candidates. Raj Thackeray appeared utterly confused when the High Court refused permission for rallies at Shivaji Park -- so much so, that the party couldn't even come out with a manifesto in time. Mumbaikars have offered him more seats but less comfort.
With this win, Sena-BJP combine can hope for a better performance in 2014 Assembly elections, despite its dismal performance as the present Opposition party.