Faced with the reality that the north Indian voter from Mumbai, who once was politically closer to the Congress party, has shifted considerably to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Mumbai unit of the former has decided to focus on reclaiming that lost ground. With the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) polls likely to be held in the next three to four months, it remains to be seen whether such last minute efforts will deliver the preferred outcomes.
“The Congress has always been the first choice of north Indians in Mumbai. Yes, there were some incidents and some mistakes on our part which created a gap between us. But that was then, and now we are back with a new, fresh team. We are going to north Indians and asking them what they want from us. It will give us positive results for sure,” said Mumbai Congress president Bhai Jagtap.
Around 18% to 20% voters in Mumbai come from north India, largely from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Mumbai’s western suburbs, and part of the city’s eastern suburbs, have concentrated pockets of north Indians. Out of the city’s 36 Assembly segments, north Indian voters will play a deciding role in at least 15.
Similarly, out of 227 BMC wards, 50 to 60 have north Indian voters in a majority, and 50 more are such that their votes may decide the victor. With the Shiv Sena in firm grip of the Marathi voting population, the BJP, since 2014, went all out to capture the city’s Gujarati as well as north Indian votes. The results of the 2014 and 2019 Assembly polls, as well as the 2017 BMC polls, manifested overwhelming support for the BJP in these pockets, which were earlier held by the Congress.
In the past, the Congress was always preferred by north Indians living in the city. The Congress is the only party where two of its past city chiefs, Kripashankar Singh and Sanjay Nirupam, come from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, respectively. Congress’ Rajhans Singh was the Leader of the Opposition in the BMC. Ramesh Thakur, Naseem Khan, Aslam Sheikh and Baba Siddiqui are all big political names from the north Indian community. Out of these, Mr. Kripashankar Singh, Mr. Rajhans Singh and Mr. Thakur have joined the BJP, fracturing the party’s loyalties amongst the Hindu north Indian population.
According to Mr. Nirupam, a former Mumbai Congress chief, the first crack in relations between north Indians and the Congress developed in 2008-09, when the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) went on a rampage, beating hawkers, taxi drivers and autorickshaw drivers, mostly from U.P. and Bihar. “A rumour spread that the Congress-led State government was sponsoring the MNS. I was the only Congress leader who was taking the MNS head-on. But when people saw no one standing with me, they started believing this rumour,” Mr. Nirupam said.
The Mumbai Congress recently announced the holding of the ‘Uttar Bharatiya Panchayat’ in all 227 wards. Its initiative to ease Chhath Puja celebrations also grabbed eyeballs. New faces are being given prominence in the party after some veterans left for the BJP. “Those who were given everything by the Congress left the party in difficult times. We don’t want to talk about them. We will rebuild the party among north Indians. We don’t need new faces — we are the new faces of the party,” said Suraj Singh Thakur, one of the upcoming north Indian leaders of the Mumbai Congress.
According to Mr. Nirupam, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindutva hardliner image in 2013-14 turned out to be the clincher for BJP in terms of north Indian votes. “Congress’ base vote in Mumbai was north Indians, Dalits and Muslims. When I became Mumbai president, I worked hard to bring these votes back to the party. Even today, we have to work with hawker unions, and auto and taxi unions, where the majority are from north India. I don’t see that happening as of now,” he said.