With minutes to go for the ballot boxes to be opened in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election, the word out on the street is that it will be a close contest between the Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The Aaj Tak-Axis exit poll puts the Shiv Sena and the BJP neck and neck with the former having a slender lead. This poll more or less suggests a hung house.
It is but natural for everyone to hedge bets because we never know how the arithmetic of electoral politics has worked till the last vote is counted. But what about the arithmetic we already know, the voting pattern of the BMC election 2012? What does it tell us? Can it give us an indication of which way this election is set to go?
For that, let’s look how the numbers stacked up in 2012.
That year, there were a 1,02,00,000 (1.02 crore) registered voters. In 2017 that number came down to 91,80,000 (91.8 lakh). That is, there was about 10,00,000 (10 lakh) fewer voters this year.
In 2012, the Shiv Sena polled 10.05 lakh vote and fetched 75 seats. The Congress, the second largest party then, polled 9.77 lakh (a difference of a little over 28,000 votes) and came a distant second with 52 seats.
Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) also polled a high 9.51 lakh votes but stood a distant fourth with 28 seats. But the BJP, with less than half the votes of the MNS, 3.97 lakh to be precise, grabbed 31 seats and ended up third. Even the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) pulled in 3.02 lakh votes for 13 seats.
There can be multiple ways of reading this verdict, but there cannot be any divergence of opinion about two basic facts: one, it was a four-way fight between five major parties and two, (because of the multiple-cornered contests) the victory margins were very small.
Let’s park that thought and look at how this year’s election is different.
We are of course talking about Mumbai though results for another nine corporations and 25 zilla parishads will also be out by mid-day or end of the day today.
The reasons are not far to see. Mumbai is India richest municipal corporation in the country with an annual budget of Rs 37,500 crore. The BMC has been considered a Shiv Sena stronghold as this saffron party has been ruling it without interruption for 15 years. It is the party’s only significant access to the lever of powers.
For a regional party that always hogs the headlines, the Shiv Sena’s sway is severely restricted to just Mumbai and Thane city corporations. Even to retain these two corporations, it has been heavily dependent on its saffron ally, the BJP.
The problem this year is that the BJP’s political ambitions have skyrocketed. It has shown, since May 2014 and December 2014, that it is no longer content to play the part of the ‘best political party in a supporting role’ anymore.
This led to a bitter political falling out. On 26 January, Shiv Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray junked the alliance with the BJP claiming that his party was “rotting for 25” because of the partnership. He has made this an election of personal prestige and pride.
Whichever way you see it, this election is all about the Shiv Sena and Uddhav. If he wins, he will walk out of two shadows: that of father Bal Thackeray and the BJP (since 2014). He will revive the party, infuse it with new energy and hope to become a regional party of Maharashtra in the true sense (not just a Mumbai party).
If he loses, the BJP will be all over him. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has already demonstrated his growing clout in state politics with a string of victories in the council elections just weeks ago. So even if the BJP turns in a strong performance and ends up as the second largest party after the Shiv Sena, he can fall back on other good performances.
For Uddhav Thackeray there is nothing like a fallback. If he loses Mumbai, he cannot hide under any other number.
This overarching theme of this BMC election has made it pretty much a two-party election this time round (as against a four-cornered contest in 2012). Going by the decibels levels at least, the Congress and NCP almost did not join the fight. Raj Thackeray made a late foray, almost like he suddenly remembered there was an election. Assauddin Owaissi of the MIM roared initially but disappeared out of sight closer to polling date.
That pretty much makes it a Shiv Sena vs BJP fight. Straight, one-on-one fights always throw up clear winners. Recent experiences from all across the country, especially post Narendra Modi wave of 2014, show that the electorate has turned in decisive mandates. This means it is the psephologists who are confused, not the voters.
Now read the 2012 vote arithmetic in this new light of the possibility of a straight contest between the Sena and the BJP. In 2012, between themselves, the Congress, NCP, MNS polled a total of 22,31,026 votes. That is nearly half the votes polled (48.4 percent).
If it is a straight contest this year, this election then is about the redistribution of this big chunk of votes. (There is still the possibility that it is not a straight contest and we have assumed the most voluble contestant as the only contestants.) Even if the three parties hang on to 50 percent of their vote base, there are still about 11 lakh floating votes. Add to that the additional five lakh new voters who turned up in this election.
So one thing is for sure, if the surmise that it’s a two-way election is correct, then both the Shiv Sena and the BJP will see a huge surge in their voter base. In 2012, Shiv Sena won with 21.84 percent of total votes polled. The Congress was snapping at its heels with 21.23 percent and the MNS with 20.66 percent. BJP got only 8.64 percent.
So that is the fight this time. Shiv Sena is going in with a huge advantage: 21.84 percent as against the BJP’s 8.64 percent. It’s immediately apparent that the climb to electoral Mount Everest is about three times more difficult for the BJP.
Arithmetic suggests that if it’s a two-way fight, there will be a clear winner. And the probability that it will be the Shiv Sena is far greater. What this means is simple. Uddhav Thackeray taking this away is the normal. BJP taking it way will be a stunner.
For live updates on BMC election results, click here.
Updated Date: Feb 23, 2017 11:01 AM