Sena’s rangeela girl gambit

Recently ex-actress Urmila Matondkar famously known as the “Rangeela Girl” joined the Shiv Sena in the presence of party chief and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray. Urmila’s first whiff in politics was with the Congress in 2019 when she contested the Lok Sabha polls from the Mumbai North seat. Her nomination was a desperate measure by the Congress to fight on a losing seat. Though Urmila lost by a margin of 4.65 lakh votes, it seemed that she would settle in the Congress. However, soon after she left the Congress claiming that her campaign was sabotaged from within the party.

Urmila Matondkar induction in Sena

About 18 months after the Lok sabha election of 2019, she joined active politics again this time with the Shiv Sena. The Sena has nominated her as MLC to the upper house of the state (Legislative Council). Her nomination though is yet to be approved by the Maharashtra governor Bhagat singh Koshiyari. Sources citing Congress and NCP claimed that she had similar MLC seat offers from these MVA allies. Leaders of the stature of Jayant Patil (NCP) and Balasaheb Thorat (Congress) spoke with her on this matter. Though in the end she joined the Shiv Sena.

So what is the reason for all the three MVA partners trying to woo an ex-actress who is a novice in politics. And why did she join the Shiv Sena instead of these parties. Urmila even contradicted herself when she spoke of soft Hindutva on joining the Sena, while she had spoken about Hindutva being a dangerous ideology just 18 months ago. Let us look at some of the reasons Sena was keen to have Urmila join their party.

There is a big municipal election season coming in Maharashtra in Feb of 2022. Big cities like Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Nashik, Nagpur, Akola etc. will vote for their local bodies. Many other important local body elections are already due (Kalyan-Dombivali, Navi Mumbai, Aurangabad) but postponed due to the COVID pandemic. Sena is on a sticky wicket in some of these especially in the MMR region, after they switched over from the Hindutva to the secular side. Sena has resorted to their tried and tested regional pride and Marathi victimhood card (plot to diminish importance of Mumbai etc.) but these cards are giving diminishing returns in Mumbai. Interestingly Supriya Sule has started using the regional pride card too. Would be another interesting subject to analyze if NCP sees it benefitting them in rural Maharashtra. Remember NCP is not a frivolous party like the Sena and they do everything in a calculated way. However that is another topic and I won’t digress into it yet.

For one the demography of Mumbai and other cities in the MMR has underwent rapid changes in the last 30 years. Marathi speaking Hindu/ neo Buddhist voters now make up only 36% in Mumbai as per the 2011 census. Out of these appro 2/3 are likely to vote for the Sena viz. 24% of the total votes in Mumbai. Here too they have competition from the MNS, which was smart enough to claim that they have embraced Hindutva once the Sena joined the secular MVA. Approx 40% Hindu voters speak Gujarati, Marwari, Sindhi, Hindi, Kannada, Konkani, Tamil and other languages. There are 20% muslims and approx. 4% other minorities like Christians and Sikhs (based on available data in public domain).

In the aftermath of the Sushant Singh Rajput suicide/ murder case and the Sena’s duel with Kangana Ranaut, the Sena has very little hope of getting these 40% non Marathi Hindu voters. These voters have always favoured the BJP or the Congress. Recently with the Congress getting reduced to being a fringe player in Mumbai, they have backed the BJP. Modi and Yogi are important faces behind this. No alliance with the BJP means that the Sena is unlikely to get their votes. This makes the Sena desperate to get the 26% minority vote. Here they face a dilemma about aligning with the Congress. If they align they are likely to get huge muslim votes in the wards they contest. However, the Congress and NCP will demand minimum 100-120 seats leaving the Sena with just 107-127 seats to contest (a historical low). Also the Hindutva wadi Sena voters (not the cadre) might shift to the MNS or the BJP. If they dont ally with the Congress, the muslim vote could be likely divided and won’t benefit the Sena totally

This is where Urmila Matondkar comes in for the Sena. Born in a Marathi family in Mumbai, Urmila Matondkar is married to a Kashmiri muslim businessman, with her post marriage name supposedly being Mariyam Akhtar Mir (though it is not officially confirmed whether she has converted and she fought LS 2019 on her maiden name). But since she is married into a muslim family, she can bring the muslim connect for the Sena. She covers both the Marathi linguistic identity and association with the muslim religion by marriage. The Sena will try to overtly market the first identity and covertly encash on the second identity. With the BJP potentially having a 40% non Marathi Hindu plus a 12% Marathi Hindu vote bank in Mumbai, the Sena can counter it stitching a 24% Marathi Hindu/ neo Buddhist and 26% minority vote bank. Though the muslim vote bank has multiple claimants like the Congress, AIMIM and Samajwadi party.

Also another utility of Urmila is in the war of words that Sena will have with actress Kangana Ranaut. Kangana is to be interrogated by the Mumbai police in early January and could be arrested. This is likely to trigger a big slanging match on Social media and traditional media. Who better than a Marathi mulgi Urmila to counter Kangana in that slanging match. Expect national liberal media (those watched like India Today and CNN IBN & those unwatched like NDTV) and especially Marathi media to give Urmila generous screen time in the coming months. Sena expects it’s predominantly lower middle class and poor Marathi bhashik voters to be kept in good humour on the regional and language pride issue through Urmila. Keep an eye out on Kangana vs Urmila verbal cat fight.

Another minor reason could be Urmila is looked as a potential candidate from the Mumbai North or North West Lok sabha seats in 2024. Urmila could fight BJP’s Gopal Shetty again from Mumbai North or could replace veteran Gajanan Kirtikar from the North West seat (though RS MP Priyanka Chaturvedi is another probable candidate for this seat). With her 6 year MLC term locked in, Urmila has nothing to lose as Sena tries to breach a strong BJP fortress. Though it is not likely that she may succeed, but the full force of Marathi and national liberal media will be behind her.

In conclusion, the Sena party apparatus is now fully in control of heir apparent Aditya Thackeray. And he is replacing old Shiv Sainiks with his own people. Priyanka C and Urmila seem to be his choices. Let us see how Urmila’s presence and glamour and her handicap of lack of political experience, helps the Sena in the next 15 months.

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