Anti-incumbency, strong saffron campaign and diminished presence of Raj may play a role
It’s one of Mumbai’s idiosyncrasies. Its municipality has been in the hands of the Shiv Sena-BJP for more than a decade but all its six MPs belong to the Congress-NCP alliance. The latter made a clean sweep of Mumbai in the 2009 elections: a total reversal of the mandate in 1996 when the entire city had MPs from the Shiv Sena-BJP.
As the two sides square off, a sequel to 2009 seems very unlikely. The Congress-NCP alliance faces anti-incumbency, an aggressive campaign by the saffron combine and the diminished presence of Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
Mr. Thackeray was a major game-changer in 2009 when his party fought its first election. He had broken away from the Shiv Sena just three years earlier and formed the rival party, which targeted the same Marathi vote bank.
Riding high on its campaign against north Indians, the MNS polled over a lakh votes in each of six constituencies, dividing the saffron vote. This led to the Congress-NCP winning five seats. Only Priya Dutt of the Congress won regardless of the MNS factor, her votes being higher than the tally of both the MNS the BJP put together.
However, this time the MNS is contesting only three of the six seats. After declaring his support for the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Mr. Thackeray decided not to field candidates for the three seats the BJP is contesting.
While the MNS will cut into the Shiv Sena vote, the Congress-NCP also faces potential spoilers with the Aam Aadmi Party and the Samajwadi Party contesting the polls in Mumbai. Analysts dismiss the impact of the AAP in the city but at least one of its candidates – social activist Medha Patkar — could cut into Congress votes in Mumbai Northeast, where she has a base. The SP too could pull in some Muslim votes, though it does not have a strong presence in Mumbai.
In this cosmopolitan city, how each of its diverse communities votes will also play a role in the mandate. Mumbai has a sizable Gujarati population, where the Modi factor will have an impact. The largest number of migrants to the city, however, comes from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. They have traditionally voted against the Shiv Sena and MNS, which have targeted north Indians.
“One cannot say for sure but the Gujaratis settled here will tend to favour Mr. Modi since he has a large following in the community. North Indians and Muslims have traditionally favoured the Congress,” says political scientist from Pune University Suhas Palshikar.
Congress candidates claim that anti-incumbency and corruption charges will not impact their vote. Besides the scams that hit the UPA, the Congress here faced the fallout of the Adarsh case, while NCP leaders were accused of being involved in major irregularities in the irrigation sector.
“It’s because the UPA brought in the Right to Information Act that there has been greater transparency,” argues Ms. Priya Dutt. She, however, concedes that price rise is a key concern.
Anxiety over the mandate in Mumbai led the Congress-NCP government to clear major sops for the city in the run-up to the polls. These included extending the cut-off date for legal slums by another five years, an election promise made a decade ago. In a city where over half the population lives in slums, this move could have some resonance. But BJP candidate Poonam Mahajan says such promises will have no impact. “There is huge anti-incumbency and a Modi wave. People want change.”
The big challenge for parties across the political spectrum is to get the notoriously apathetic Mumbai resident to vote. In 2009, Mumbai’s turnout was an abysmal 41.40 per despite the public anger against politicians during the 26/11 terror strike just a year before.
If the turnout in the State elections so far is any indication, Mumbai may spring a welcome surprise.