BMC Election 2017: Record turnout in Shiv Sena vs BJP battle raises more questions than answers

One would like to imagine that Mumbai voters – with the other nine municipal corporations – made their choices on Tuesday in what is mini-general elections, on civic and specific development issues plaguing their respective cities. But the campaigns mounted by the two principal actors, Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray and BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis were anything but that. It was a bid at political assertion.

Which brings up the question: which party would best the other. Traditionally, about half of Mumbai votes with its feet. The other half thinks it is a superfluous task since, with the civic body, it is the cash that counts, the cash forked out to the machinery, including the corporators they elect every five years. So, what’s the point?

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. Image courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

A point of note is that the voting percentages from all the cities except for the godforsaken Ulhasnagar has breached the 50 percent mark and the voter enthusiasm is not for correcting flaws in local urban issues. Cities, even as they grow, take on the ramshackle appearance and unbridled expansion with no planning make them as worse to live in as they would have been without growth.

However, this year, the city spectacularly bucked the trend and more people came out than ever to elect their new corporators. The statistic of 55.28 percent is, therefore, mindboggling because Mumbai had seen a turnout as low as 42.1 percent in 2002. So, why? What dragged the reluctant citizen to the polling booth? Even after the results are posted on Thursday, it may well be a good subject for a doctoral thesis.

The answers are not likely to be pat. The conventional wisdom is that such upsurge in turnouts implies a change, a strong anti-incumbency. To straightaway apply that logic in this case could be foolhardy for several reasons, including the fact that despite almost an across the board hike in voter turnout, they vary ward from ward.

There’s some uncertainty about the size of the voting population which went missing – a Sena claim, buttressed by the media with their anecdotal evidence. It appears to have been large, and the figures mentioned by the Shiv Sena is 11 lakhs. If even half of them had voted, the psychologists’ heads would have gone into a tizzy. Maybe Mumbai would have set up a record hard to beat.

Shiv Sena has been in control of the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai for close to three decades, mostly with the Bharatiya Janata Party as a partner who severed its ties this time for a direct confrontation. To an extent that other parties did not seem to count. Even the grand Maratha, Sharad Pawar had to vote for a candidate in his ward from a party which was not his: there was none. He may even have opted for NOTA, the first time in civic elections here.

Could it have meant that seeing Sena embattled in a do-or-die battle with its former associate in the civic body, the Marathi manoos came out in droves to throw the lifejackets at it? Sena generally has a strong core of committed voters and depends less on floating votes. In that case, the strong electoral support at the booths may not necessarily mean an anti-incumbency issue.

The other alternative may mean that the city’s electorate has had enough of Sena’s ways of doing civic business – it, in fact, fine-tuned it into a business for venal profit, and hence its love for the cash-rich MCGM – and wanted it out. As a consequence of the anti-incumbency, the BJP stands to gain but it is uncertain if that translated to a landslide. The party itself does not expect a landslide.

In this context, one takes the Axis-India Today exit poll with at least a pinch of salt because however large the sample, the demographics are fractured into the well-heeled and the poor, the latter in slums. Their proportions are never alike in any of the wards, and when four candidates figured on a ballot for each ward as a panel, the math gets much more complicated. A slight error in exit polling could take the results off the mark.

It is tempting to ascribe the voter enthusiasm to a love for the BJP for which the chief minister himself campaigned, which is uncharacteristic for a person holding that office. Fadnavis on the stump spoke of the transparency in administering the civic matters, and it may well have had buyers but one needs to factor in the unease about the fraught manner in which demonetisation was implemented. Did those who normally root for BJP then shift to the Sena?

The outcome of the Mumbai civic poll could even be such that the rivals may be forced to do business again as partners in building roads, sanctioning plans of builders, slackening on the quality, and thus undermine governance. That would be an odd spectacle which has been on view in the Assembly where the Sena is a junior partner and a troublesome in-house opposition. Which of the two the Sena mimics in Assembly here depends on the results.

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Updated Date: Feb 22, 2017 10:41:53 IST

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