Strong cadre network sees Sena through in Mumbai

The Congress has only itself to blame for the resounding defeat it suffered in the Mumbai and Thane civic polls.

In the rival camp, the victory of the Shiv Sena, whose alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Republican Party of India (Athavale) won 107 seats in the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, is testimony to its persistence.

The Sena will head the MCGM for the fourth time in succession. Since 2009 when it lost badly in the general and Assembly elections after the newly formed Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) ate into its vote bank, Sena executive president Uddhav Thackeray has been trying to turn things around. A strong network of cadres in every suburb of Mumbai and a large number of women candidates were the Sena's mainstay. While the city didn't show much improvement for the work the Sena claimed it has done in the last 16 years, the party appealed to the strong Marathi sentiment as well. Two rallies by Sena leader Bal Thackeray too could have turned the tide in the party's favour.

As for the Congress, it hoped that it could win in alliance with Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party and that the combine could get 132 seats based on the calculation of the votes polled by the two parties in 2007, when they contested separately. This arithmetic failed to take into the reckoning the fact that Dalit leader Ramdas Athavale, who has support in Mumbai, chose to ally with the saffron parties and also that the Samajwadi Party had fielded 140 candidates, nine of whom won.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan admitted that the secular vote was divided. While the RPI won a single seat in Dharavi, definitely its alliance has garnered support for the Shiv Sena-BJP. The party which fared better than expected was the BJP with 31 seats. The Sena's tally in a House of 227 is 75.

Ever since Mr. Chavan took over as Chief Minister last year, open rift in the Mumbai Congress has been a headache for him. The former city president and MP, Gurudas Kamat, and the present incumbent, Kripa Shankar Singh, do not see eye to eye and the rivalry has showed the party in a poor light.

The fate of the Congress-NCP alliance was perhaps sealed from the moment its first rally in Mumbai drew a poor crowd, unlike the bigger turnout for other parties. The time has now come for the Congress high command, which has been dilly-dallying on the issue of change of guard in the Mumbai Congress, to take decisive action.

Mr. Kamat's nephew Sameer Desai lost in Goregaon, thanks mainly to the NCP supporting the Sena, and the children of some Congress leaders too did not win. Mr. Chavan said the rift in the party over seat allocation was restricted to one Lok Sabha constituency and this could not be the cause of the defeat. However, he cannot deny that the party is a shambles in the city. There is no faith in the leadership. While the Congress has five MPs in Mumbai, and one from the NCP, it could neither mobilise its workers nor inspire confidence in them to unite for a badly-needed victory.

Open infighting

The other issue is the open infighting between the Congress and the NCP, which came to the fore in Thane. The two parties are ruling the State; they tied up in a few key corporations like Mumbai and Thane, and fought separately in Pune and Pimpri. In the zilla parishad and panchayat samiti polls also, they fought separately. Mudslinging between Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and Industries Minister Narayan Rane and others got to such an extent that Mr. Sharad Pawar had to intervene and admonish his party. In addition, there is the crisis of corruption that the Congress has been facing, right from the Centre to the State. From a voter's point of view, the Congress did not inspire much credibility.

MNS, a worry for Sena

In the Mumbai elections, there is much to cheer for MNS president Raj Thackeray, whose determination to beat the Sena got him 28 seats, 21 more than in 2007. More satisfying to him is that his party won seven seats in the Sena bastion of Dadar-Mahim. But he did not emerge as the “king” or “kingmaker” as was projected before the polls.

He can take solace from the fact that in the Nashik municipal corporation, the MNS has won the highest number of seats, 40 of the 122, and is in a position to dictate who controls it. In Pune too he won 29 seats. The MNS has gone from strength to strength and this must worry the Sena, which with 75 seats in Mumbai, is nine down from 2007.

The Sena counted on ground-level work, its tactics and emotional appeal to its tested vote bank, which did sway to the MNS in key places and that must cause it some anxiety. The Sena's seat share is also steadily slipping over the years.

For the Congress, something is clearly rotten, and it needs more than introspection to get its act together.

Mumbai voters gave citizens' candidates the thumbs-down, except in Colaba.