BMC Election 2017: Shiv Sena retains hold, BJP makes huge gains; smaller parties hold key to power

Smaller parties and Independents hold the key to power in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), after a fragmented debate, with the Shiv Sena and the BJP closely positioned within few seats of each other.

The saffron partners are at an apocalyptic stage with each one wanting to control the civic affairs of the financial capital of the country. The Shiv Sena has emerged as the single largest party winning 84 seats (as compared to 75 in the last polls) without reaching the magic figure of 114. The BJP, on the other hand, increased its tally from 31 in the previous election, to 82 seats, but failed to reach the magic figure as well.

The possibilities are immense for both, the Sena and the BJP, are likely to stake claim for power: The Sena, as the single largest party, assuming office with the help of non-BJP parties; the BJP assuming office with the help of non-Sena parties; and the Sena and BJP forming a post-poll alliance in return for a political deal in the state and central governments. But whatever the outcome, the saffron partners have belittled the Congress and the NCP.

For Sena, it is an important election that showed its existence on the home-turf. Besides, the BMC election result gives it a dominant position in Maharashtra politics, vis-a-vis its rivals, including the BJP. The victory will come in handy for the Sena to leverage itself in a better manner while negotiating with the BJP in state politics and the Centre, apart from rejuvenating its ranks and file for the 2019 Assembly election.

Celebrations outside the Sena Bhavan on Thursday. Akshay Japtap/Firstpost

Celebrations outside the Sena Bhavan on Thursday. Akshay Japtap/Firstpost

During the campaign, the Sena leadership focused mainly on the BMC, despite simultaneous polls in other municipal corporations and zilla parishads in the state. Around 50 percent of Mumbai’s population lives in slums, chawls and lower middle class settlements and these are the people who actually turnout to cast their vote as they need the help of the local corporator to address their daily civic woes. The Sena has been in power in the civic body for several decades, with its corporators bonding with the ‘voter’ population in such localities, even during festivals throughout the year. The voters give more importance to their proximity with local leadership that helps them in need, rather than ethical issues and governance issues debated by the educated elite. For instance, residents of slums and chawls, displaced by the ongoing infrastructural works, are more interested in getting properly rehabilitated than voting for ‘digital governance’ or going cashless. Besides, Uddhav’s poll promise of exempting houses less than 500 sq.ft from property tax was targeted at the working class voters.

So, when Sena criticised several policies of the BJP, like demonetisation or opposing cricket matches with Pakistan, it consolidated its position among the electorate. As an astute critic of the BJP, it was also creating space for itself in the Opposition, apparently with a tacit understanding with the BJP. Thereby, it ate into the Opposition space available for parties like the Congress and the NCP. The Sena took the moral high ground while opposing BJP's policies and managed to keep its flock together. The strategy of projecting itself as a watchdog of the people even while sharing power with the BJP and playing the victim has helped in polarising its voters.

The BJP leaders, especially Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, on the other hand, led a high decibel campaign against Sena, creating an impression that the Modi wave of 2014 would continue and sweep the BMC polls. It demeaned the Sena in civic governance and many of its leaders, including Kirit Somaiya and Ashish Shelar accused Sena of large-scale corruption in the civic body. Fadnavis harped on transparency in civic affairs. The impression created was that the BJP would wrest power in the BMC on its own. It did not happen. However, the BJP managed to mobilise middle and upper middle class localities, including those of traders and non-Marathi residents (especially Gujaratis), to come out and vote. It resulted in marginal increase in the percentage of voting and enabled the BJP in more than doubling its tally over the previous election.

The saffron partners did not form an alliance for the BMC elections and blamed each other for failing to come at a consensus. However, it appears that neither the Sena nor the BJP wanted an alliance. The Sena, which was the big brother of the BJP in state politics but had been reduced to a smaller ally in state politics in 2014, was jittery of losing its cadres and wanted to rejuvenate its ranks and file everywhere, including Mumbai. The BJP, on the other hand, wanted to expand its base and chose to contest all seats not just in Mumbai, but also elsewhere in the state, in the run up to 2019 state polls. In the process, the BJP even admitted politicians with questionable backgrounds into its fold, just because it felt that they had elective merit. After the BMC elections, BJP leaders may not have any qualms in supporting the Sena in the BMC. After all both the parties belong to the Hindutva pariwar and would love to continue sharing power in the state and Centre, albeit with some revised power sharing formula — it may include expansion of Fadnavis Cabinet to accommodate more Sena MLAs.

The Congress and the NCP lost ground further over their performance in the previous elections. The Congress, divided as ever among squabbling leaders, is yet to come to terms with its plight after the 2014 polls. The NCP, too, could not retain even the 13 seats it had won in 2012. The traditional votebanks of the Congress and the NCP turned to other parties like the BJP, Sena and the AIMIM, which has made its debut in the BMC by winning three seats.

The MNS could not reach the double digit, failing to retain the 28 seats it had won in the previous elections. Its chief, Raj Thackeray, campaigned too late and too little to encash on his charisma and support from the ‘Shivaji Park’ brand of supporters (the Marathi elite) and those in the cultural field. Though he has emerged as a successor to Bal Thackeray in becoming an extra-constitutional authority on Bollywood issues, his party suffered a miserable defeat in the Nashik Municipal Corporation (NMC). He went around with a PowerPoint presentation on development of Nashik city by the MNS over the past five years, which included many major projects that were funded by the central and state governments along with the NMC, and some beautification projects financed by industrial houses through CSR funds. In Nashik, the MNS, which had won 40 seats in 2012, was reduced to a single digit. In BMC, the MNS failed to retain its 28 seats won in the previous polls and was not even able to reach the double digit figure.

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Updated Date: Feb 24, 2017 09:47:26 IST

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