With Eknath Shinde in Maharashtra’s driver’s seat, the much-delayed Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections will now prove to be the real litmus test for the rebellion-hit Shiv Sena.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has made a calculated move by putting Shinde at the helm, as not only is the BMC a Shiv Sena’s fortress, but the party has also controlled it for decades, having 21 mayors since 1971.
Although the Sena came to power in the BMC in 1985, it soon made the civic body its stronghold by 1996.
Much of the Sena’s political fight in Mumbai is usually strengthened by its power over the country’s richest civic body, explain experts.
‘SENA SANS BMC LIKE FISH OUT OF WATER’
With more than two-thirds of the MLAs supporting Shinde’s rebellion, maintaining stronghold over the Mumbai civic body is a Herculean task for the Thackeray-led faction.
Mumbai is the birthplace of the Sena and the party’s network in every lane and ward is phenomenal. Statistics show that from 1996 till this year, the Shiv Sena has had complete control over the BMC without a break. It has won the BMC polls consistently from 1997 (103 seats), 2002 (97 seats), 2007 (84 seats), 2012 (75 seats) and then 2017 (84 seats). In the recent delimitation and reservation exercise, the Shiv Sena’s electoral wards went from 237 to 236.
Prof Avinash Kolhe, a senior political analyst from Mumbai, said: “Thackeray’s Sena without the BMC is like fish out of water and the BJP understands it is the best strategy to decimate his faction in Mumbai.”
He further explained that Shinde is an old Sena hand and knows the nuts and bolts of the Sena apparatus and is expected to make a dent in the Sena (Thackeray) faction.
“The calculation is that with a Sena man in the CM’s seat… I am sure he would have been told that they are awarding him the post in the hope that he does wonders in the BMC elections for the BJP-Sena alliance,” Prof Kolhe said.
“The thought process would be that Shinde should be able to wrest the BMC out of the tight clutches of Thackeray. The BJP would have mandated Shinde that he would have to cut Thackeray’s Sena to size, which has had BMC as its cash cow for decades,” the analyst told News18.
Several Sena corporators and leaders are jittery with the new political development as their future in the BMC also depends on which way they sway. Although the BMC elections are held April and May, this year, the polls were delayed over reservation for Other Backward Castes.
News18 connected with a few Sena corporators who preferred to remain anonymous, but spoke their mind.
“The internal split has definitely made us nervous. We have fought our election on the Shiv Sena symbol and now we don’t know how people will react to our campaign. We have to tread carefully,” said a corporator from a ward in south Mumbai.
A former councillor from Worli, Santosh Kharat, said the elections should not affect those who have worked on ground.
“People only see what has been done for them. The BMC polls would not be majorly affected by the current political situation,” he said.
Ashish Chemburkar, former councillor from Worli and BEST chairman, told News18 that people know who has been on available for them. “I don’t think there will be any effect of Shinde ji becoming the CM. Till now, people have elected the Shiv Sena under the leadership of Uddhav Thackeray ji. This time, it will be about who has worked for people and how they handled crises for them,” Chemburkar said.
Only two city Sena MLAs, one from Byculla and other from Borivli, joined the Shinde camp. “The rest of the MLAs with Shinde are from rural areas, so it won’t have an impact on the BMC elections,” he added.
WHAT HAPPENED DURING LAST ELECTIONS
In 2017, in the fight for control of the BMC, the competition got so intense that both the Shiv Sena and the BJP finished neck-and-neck with 84 and 82 seats, respectively.
A senior Sena local leader said in order to counter the Shinde juggernaut, Thackeray will have to spend more time on ground. He will have to regain the confidence of people who voted for the Shiv Sena under his father’s and his leadership until now.
Thackeray will have to tug at the heartstrings of Mumbai’s Shiv Sainiks.
“Thackeray will have to hit the road and woo the people of Marathwada and Vidarbha back. He can do that with the legacy of Balasaheb Thackeray. He used to be a foot soldier and he must return to it by going to the villages in every region,” the leader said.