BMC Election 2017: Uddhav Thackeray's big gamble may change the dynamics of Mumbai politics

In 1985, Shiv Sena won the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election under the leadership of party supremo and founder Bal Thackeray. It was for the first time Mumbai (Bombay then) saw the rise of Hindutva politics and Shiv Sena established its hold on the city. The stakes are once again high for the party and it's leader Uddhav Thackeray. In the 2017 BMC election, Shiv Sena contested the polls without its long-time ally — the BJP. If Uddhav manages to clinch a majority, the dynamics of Mumbai politics could change once again.

The mudslinging and trading of barbs between the two rival parties did not stop even after the polling on Wednesday. Shiv Sena MP Arvind Sawant said "a massive" turnout (55 percent) means there is a "big wave" against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his demonetisation exercise, while BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said, "Higher voter turnout means people are yearning for a change and they are in our favour."

Uddhav Thackeray. File photo. PTI

File image of Uddhav Thackeray. PTI

After ruling the civic body for over two decades, the two alliance partners parted ways this year. In a dramatic announcement, Uddhav said his party has been sidelined in the decision-making process and that the Sena has wasted 25 years in an alliance. It was touted as a coming of age moment for Uddhav who finally came out of the shadows of being the junior partner in the alliance.

With the BJP's thumping win in the Maharashtra Assembly Election 2014, Shiv Sena have been complaining of being pushed to the sidelines. Though leaders of both the parties have indicated that breakup in the alliance in the civic body polls will not have an impact on the state politics, challenging the ruling BJP is a huge political gamble for Uddhav. Mumbai has always been a Sena bastion, taking control of the BMC without the BJP could open up new possibilities for Uddhav and his party, but a defeat on the home turf would mean that the Sena chief has managed to alienate their core vote base who have shifted their allegiance to the  BJP.

Ahead of the polls, both the parties had failed to reach a consensus over the seat-sharing. Of the 227 seats in the BMC, the BJP wanted to contest 114 seats, while Sena was willing to concede 60 seats, which led to the eventual split. The BJP has 33 corporators while ruling Sena has 75 members. While the Sena was unwilling to give up its control over the civic body, the BJP, confident after the Assembly election, wanted a bigger share of the pie.

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who led the BJP campaign for the BMC polls mirrored it on Modi's development credo. Fadnavis set the tone of the campaign with this tweet:

The 23 February mandate has become a prestige issue for Fadnavis too. By winning the BMC polls, the BJP would gain ground and consolidate its power before the next Assembly elections. But the stake is higher for Uddhav.

Despite being an ally, after the state polls, Sena has been projecting itself as the Opposition. Uddhav has been extremely critical of the Modi government's demonetisation move. Launching a scathing attack on the Fadnavis government, Uddhav at an election rally said, "This is the first election where the Sena does not have an opponent. How do I acknowledge someone who doesn’t even know how the corporation functions as an adversary?”, reported The Indian Express.

An uncharacteristically aggressive Uddhav also said that he has put the BJP government "on notice period" and said he would decide whether to continue the state-level alliance after the results.

The BMC elections results will be a referendum on Uddhav. Anything short of 100 seats will put the Sena on shaky ground. If the BJP manages to eat into Sena's vote share, Uddhav will have to knock on BJP's door, which he had vehemently vowed not to a few days back. In the battle of rhetoric, the two rival parties can't afford to rule out the possibility of a post-poll alliance.

For live updates on BMC election results, click here.

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Updated Date: Feb 23, 2017 09:06:13 IST

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