The campaigning for the Brihan Mumbai Corporation (BMC) election scheduled for Feb-Mar 2022 in normal times (mentioning this as we live in a pandemic) has started with Shiv Sena flaunting the “Mumbai model” of successfully containing the Covid 19 pandemic. The BJP has been quick to point out the hollowness of the Sena’s claims with election incharge and Kandivali East MLA Atul Bhatkhalkar continuously targeting the Shiv Sena. The BJP slammed the Shiv Sena (referred to as Sena henceforth) on the state government/ BMC missing out on vaccination of 18-44 year age group. The Congress has been in a Jupiter’s orbit of it’s own with Congress city leader Bhau Jagtap and state president Nana Patole repeatedly saying that Congress will fight local body elections on it’s own.
Why is the Congress singing this “ekla chalo re” raag? It is because of a proven political trend that in a state only 2 or maximum 3 political parties prosper at a time. Currently in Maharashtra three out four main political parties are allied together in government, The MVA government is dominated by NCP and Shiv Sena. BJP has the entire opposition space to consolidate, with the small section of anti incumbency voters hating BJP moving towards small players like MNS and VBA (Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi led by Prakash Ambedkar).
The Congress however is at a severe disadvantage with every other party trying to eat Congress vote banks. The Congress state leadership has realized this and hence the stand to fight alone to preserve their identity and vote bank. This go alone stand by the Congress has led to ruffling of feathers of the Shiv Sena and the NCP. Top leaders like Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray and NCP leader Jayant Patil have criticized Congress over their stand. There is an important reason behind this seemingly unnecessary tiff between the Sena/NCP and the Congress.
This has nothing to do with the survival of the MVA government but more to do with the major local body elections planned in 2022. Why is the Sena upset with the Congress which has clearly said that while they will fight these urban local body elections seperately, but they plan to stay in the MVA to keep BJP out of power? If there is no threat to the MVA government, why is the Sena upset with the Congress?
The BMC 2022 (and the other municipal elections within the MMR) is a “back to the wall” battle for the Shiv Sena. Sena has been ruling the BMC for approx. 25-30 years single handedly (BJP was a junior partner with no major say till 2017). The Covid 19 pandemic has brought out the ruling Sena’s sins of omission and commission wrt. healthcare and hence anger is building among the voters. Sena is also hamstrung by a demography that is quickly turning to the favor of the BJP. Mumbai now has just 30-35% Marathi speaking voter base with a parallel 35% block of Gujarati speaking & Hindi speaking voters. The Gujarati and Hindi speaking voters will largely support the BJP in the upcoming election, but the Sena is not assured of the entire 30-35% Marathi vote bank. BJP and MNS will take approx. 40% of the total Marathi voters. Thus the Sena is left with just 20-22% voters in Mumbai.
The Congress had won 31 wards in 2017 mainly on the support of the Hindi speaking voters as well as Muslim and Neo Buddhist dalit voters. Congress has been losing it’s hold over the Hindi speaking voter base since 2014 especially after the rise of Narendra Modi. The rise of Yogi Adityanath in UP since 2017 has further accelerated the shift of the Congress Hindi speaking voter base towards the BJP. This was also visible in the 2019 Lok Sabha and Vidhan sabha elections where the Congress could only win 5 muslim and neo buddhist dominated seats in the city.
The Congress having lost it’s Hindi speaking voters is scrambling to save it’s 22% muslim vote bank in Mumbai. Congress city leader Bhai Jagtap (a rich union leader) has been making noises about the party fighting the BMC elections on it’s own. The main attempt is to preserve the separate identity of the Congress in the city where it was once the dominant party. There are already signs that some muslim votes will be lost to the Shiv Sena as they start campaigning vociferously against the BJP. Also the AIMIM would campaign strongly against the Congress pointing towards the fact that Congress is now in government with the Sena, which led the retaliation against the muslims in the 1992 and 1993 riots in the city.
The Congress itself is part of the MVA government only because it has to keep the BJP out of power. Congress is out of power nationally and there is no chance of Congress returning to power in Delhi even in 2024. The state Congress leaders are not used to stay in opposition. Congress was the weakest opposition party in Maharashtra in the 2014-2019 period. The Congress is enduring a lot of insults though the state government’s survival is dependent on it. A prolonged spell on the opposition benches is discouraging the Congress from moving out of this government.
But there is one way the Congress can get huge bargaining power over the Sena and the NCP. Winning a sizeable number of corporators in key municipal corporations like Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad will help it do so. Especially in the BMC, a tally of 20-30 corporators will make the Congress a kingmaker in the post-poll scenario, especially if the BJP is unable to win a majority. The Sena is on a long term decline in the megapolis and is likely to win about 70-75 wards (am stating this based on my gut feeling, a details analysis can be done closer to the election) and the BJP is currently at 100-105 wards. To get to the the majority mark of 114, Sena may need everyone from Congress, NCP, SP to even AIMIM and as usual engineer a friendly split in the MNS.
If the above scenario happens, the Sena will have to keep the Congress happy to stay in power in the BMC. The Congress will extract its pound of flesh. This is precisely why the Sena leaders from Sanjay Raut to Uddhav Thackeray are angry on the Congress. Sena is a party that reacts directly on emotional reasons, with a more nuanced reaction not its cup of tea. The Congress understands this and hence seems keen at this moment to fight alone rather than forge a pre-poll alliance with the Sena and fight on less than 100 wards. The Congress will have more influence over the Sena as a post poll ally.
Hence, I say that the winner of the BMC 2022 election would either be the BJP which would end 30 years of Sena rule over the richest municipal corporation in Mumbai or the Congress on whose support the Sena would just about hold on to their milchcow.