Yesterday, the Saam TV Marathi channel and the Sakal group of newspapers (owned by Pawar family) brought out a survey for Maharashtra assembly where they predicated MVA alliance to retain power with 176 seats, if the elections are held now. The BJP is predicted to get 104 seats, about the same number of seats they won in 2019. Shiv Sena is predicted to win 77 seats (2019: 56) while NCP and Congress are predicated to get 59 and 40 seats respectively. The NCP has 54 seats while Congress has 44 seats in the 2019 assembly election, thus more or less their combined number remains the same.
While I have a lot of issues with the survey numbers, I would limit my analysis to Mumbai city + suburban districts which have 36 seats in total. The survey predicts that in a BJP vs MVA contest, the BJP will get just 11 seats while the MVA will get 25 seats. Out of the 25 seats for MVA, the Shiv Sena itself gets 21 seats and Congress & NCP get 2 seats each. This prediction itself confirms that this is a sham survey and does not reflect the ground reality in Mumbai.
In the 2019 assembly election, BJP won 16 seats in Mumbai while the Sena won 14 seats. Congress and NCP were far behind at 4 and 1 seat (Bhangarwala Nawab Malik is sole NCP MLA in Mumbai) respectively. The 2019 assembly election was fought in alliance by the NDA and UPA. If we go back to the 2014 assmebly election, where all parties fought seperately; the BJP and Sena has 16 and 14 seats respectively in the 2014 assembly election. Thus we can see that the BJP has proved it’s strength in Mumbai in two continuos assembly election and also in the 2017 BMC municipal election as well.
Hence this survey by Saam TV flies in the face of historical trands and current sentiments on the ground. The Sena getting 21 seats in Mumbai would be an unprecedented event. Infact if you ask my opinion, the tally is likely to be BJP 18, Sena 11 for Mumbai in the next assembly election. Here are six reasons why I am contradicting the survey,
Demographics against the Shiv Sena : The demographics of the Mumbai city and suburbs have tilted heavily against the Shiv Sena. Mumbai now has approx. 30% Marathi speaking voters as compared to 35% plus Gujarati and Hindi speaking voters. Unfortunately due to the Covid pandemic, the 2021 census was not held and hence we need to rely on unofficial media reports. Sena does not get even get the full Marathi speaking voter block and gets about 60% of those voters. Upper middle class Marathi voters especially living in bilding apartments support BJP or the MNS. Sena support comes from the lower middle class or the poor Marathi speaking voters who predominantly live in chawls and slums. These are the voters who can be swayed by emotive issues like Marathi pride. But in this voter segment too, Sena faced competition from the MNS. MNS workers have worked hard on the ground to support these voters during the pandemic (something which the Sena used to do previously). MNS led visible agitations against fee increase by schools during the pandemic and other such matters. While majority of the Sena corporators and shakha-pramukhs on the ground are now mainly wheelers-dealers and fixers.
The Gujarati, Hindi or other language speaking voters are unlikely to vote for the Shiv Sena in large numbers as they do not relate to the Sena. There is a feeling that a lot of the young so called woke voters will relate to CM Uddhav’s son Aditya Thackeray. But I fell that this is an overrated feeling as the number of wokes in Mumbai are likely to be very less or are anyways likely to be Congress voters. Thus, Sena is gasping to save some of it’s traditional seats in Mumbai, forget winning new seats.
BJP expanding it’s footsprint in the city : BJP was always thought to be a Gujarati-Marwari party in Mumbai and hence most Marathi voters did not relate to it. They votes for the BJP due to it’s alliance with the Sena. But this perception has been proved to be false in the 2014 assembly election and the 2017 BMC election, where the BJP stood above or on equal footing to the Sena. Infact having got rid of the Sena alliance in 2014 and 2017 helped BJP to increase representation to all communities including Marathi speaking voters. In the yuti, Sena usually used to field 95% Marathi speaking candidates and hence BJP in it’s limited quota had to accomodate other major communities like Gujarati, Marwari, Hindi speaking candidates. Thus, giving rise to the perception that BJP was a non-Marathi party in Mumbai. However that perception has now been corrected as BJP has a long list of leaders from the Marathi community as well as other linguistic groups in the city.
Also BJP has been capturing key areas from the Sena and Congress. They have snatched Goregaon from the Sena in 2014 and Wadala &, Sion-Koliwada from the Congress in last two elections. They are likely to snatch Kalina (due to controversial leader Kripa shankar Singh who recently joined the BJP) and likely Bhandup from the Sena in the coming future.
Fadnavis effect : Ex-CM and current leader of opposition Devendra Fadnavis is very popular in Mumbai. Mumbai city has no major issues related to electric supply, water supply, jobs for target population and medical care (though costly). Major issue has been travel from residence to office which can take anyways between 1-2 hours for a single journey. There were no major infra projects done in 1999-2014 rule of the Congress-NCP. The 250 km metro network project started by Devendra Fadnavis is a huge hit with the Mumbaikars. Two lines of approx. 35 km length will be ready by mid 2022 between Dahisar and Andheri (along Western railway line). In contrast the Sena led state government has put the Metro 3 underground line in a limbo, due to the Aarey metro yard issue. There is a lot of anger due to work being stalled due to such faux environmental issues.
Fadnavis also started the long planned Mumbai Transharbour link project, Mumbai-Nagpur expressway, four laning of Mumbai-Goa highway and even kickstarted the Mumbai Coastal Road, which is touted by the Shiv Sena. Some of these projects are stuck due to an unresponsive state government in the last 2 years. This helps elevate the image of Fadnavis as an able administrator vis-a- vis Uddhav Thackeray, in the eyes of the Mumbaikars whose lives are plagued by traffic filled roads and jam packed loack trains
Conundrum about the MVA alliance : The core Sena vote bank viz. the Marathi manoos in Mumbai (and MMR) has been anti-Congress from the emergency days. They supported Sena as it took on the Congress. Balasaheb Thackeray attacked Sharad Pawar and later Sonia Gandhi in his speeches. But now his own son has joined hands with these same individuals. While Sena cadre and voters may justify it in the name of retaining power, but the core Sena voter is not comfortable voting for the Congress candidate. So in case the Sena voter is faced with voting a Congress candidate and a BJP candidate, they are likely to sit at home or end up voting for the BJP. The game is on for the yuti voters who arent hardcore voters of any party, but supported either BJP or Sena candidate.
Sena gave up its Hindutva space by joining hands with the Congress & NCP and this created an opening for Raj Thackeray, who was quick to embrace Hindutva. His gambit is to attract the disgruntled Sena voters, who does not consider either the Congress or the BJP as an option. Depending, on how well Raj Thackeray plays his cards, Sena fears a dent in it’s core vote bank due to the MNS. This may prevent it from openly allying with the Congress and going for an post poll alliance. Sena and Congress have always done a tactical covert understanding on the ground to help each other, but might not go for an open pre-poll alliance.
Muslim votebank and it’s many takers : There are approx. 22% muslim voters in Mumbai, a bulk of them from Hindi speaking Northern and Eastern states. Despite their numbers, they wield influence on few assembly seats in Mumbai due to ghettoisation after the 1992 post Babri riots. The Sena is already making overtures to this lucrative votebank which is controlled by mullahs and maulvis. Muslim voters can help them defeat BJP in mized population constituencies, but to maximize these gains the Sena needs a pre-poll alliance with the Congress. As we have already discussed the shortfalls of the pre-poll alliance, Sena is not 100% confident of going ahead with it. Also the Congress fears being reduced to a minor party in alliance with the Sena and losing it’s presence in the city. Thus, Congress leaders are currently talking about going alone in the elections.
Muslim votebank also has many aspirants and seekers like the AIMIM, Samajwadi party (SP) and now even the AAP. While the AAP won’t make much of an impact, the AIMIM and SP have their pockets in the city. Thus, without a pre-poll Sena-Congress alliance the muslim votebank is likely to be fragmented.
Comeback of Kripa shankar Singh : Kripashankar Singh was a powerful Congress minister till 2009 election after which he was targeted in intra-party politics and embroiled in corruption cases. This resulted in him losing the 2014 assembly election and being thrown in a wilderness. With the BJP gaining Hindi bhashik voters in Mumbai from 2014 onwards after the rise of Modi and the trend solidifying after the rise of Yogi as UP CM, Kripashankar started gravitating towards the BJP. The BJP also felt that he has a utility if they are to capture the BMC. Kripa helped build the Hindi bhashik votebank of the Congress which coupled with the muslim votebank (and MNS sabotaging the Sena-BJP) helped Congress win 17 seats in Mumbai in the 2009 assembly election. The Congress still retains a section of the working class among the Hindi Bhashik voters.
The BJP is using Kripashankar to snatch this important segment of the voters from the Congress. If successful, this would decimate the Congress and boost BJP hugely. Despite his controversial image, the BJP has gambled with Kripashankar and made him an important part of their plans to win the BMC 2022 election.
In conclusion, I do not see the Shiv Sena upstaging the BJP in Mumbai and getting 21 seats. Infact the result may be reversed and the BJP may win 20 seats if all things go well, against the MVA alliance. Sena is infact desperate to hold Mumbai in face of an unprecedented strong challenge by the BJP. If the Sena is on a sticky wicket in its home pitch of Mumbai, MMR and Konkan region, their is hardly chance of it winning 50 seats, forget 77 seats in the next assembly election. Thus, the Saam TV survey looks more like a sham paid survey by the Marathi media to shore up the sagging fortunes of the Shiv Sena.