Lacklustre victory

Published : Mar 23, 2012 00:00 IST

Uddhav Thackeray, executive president of the Shiv Sena, after it emerged as the largest party in the Municipal Corporation elections.-SHIRISH SHETE

Uddhav Thackeray, executive president of the Shiv Sena, after it emerged as the largest party in the Municipal Corporation elections.-SHIRISH SHETE

While the Shiv Sena is in a position to rule the Mumbai Municipal Corporation once again, the Raj Thackeray-led MNS makes steady progress.

ELECTIONS to the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) are always hotly contested. In all, there were 2,232 contestants for the February 16 elections to the 227 electoral wards. Everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of the country's richest civic body. The Rs.21,000-crore-plus annual budget of the cash-rich corporation is bigger than that of 17 States.

The Shiv Sena, which has been ruling the MCGM for the past 15 years, was able to retain control over the civic body for the fourth consecutive term. The party also did well in the elections to nine other municipal corporations in Maharashtra. Along with its old alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and its recent partner, the Republican Party of India (Athavale), the Sena won in five corporations. In the MCGM, the Sena and the BJP together won 107 seats (75 and 32 respectively) but fell short of the magic figure of 114. But the saffron alliance managed to retain power with the help of independents and smaller parties who together secured 28 seats.

Although the Sena was able to come back to power in Mumbai, there are indications that the party is no longer in a secure position. Results of the last three elections in the city indicate that the Sena has been slipping gradually. In 2002, the party held 97 seats, this fell to 82 in 2007, and this time it has dropped further to 75. The biggest blow to the Sena was the loss of all the seven wards in Dadar, which was considered its stronghold as the middle class residents of the area were traditionally Sena supporters. Apart from the obvious loss, there is a lesson in this for the Sena. It is an indication that its core vote base is eroding. Even more worthy of the party's notice is the fact that its bastion was breached from the inside since Dadar was won by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), the breakaway party started six years ago by Raj Thackeray, Sena supremo Bal Thackeray's disgruntled nephew.

Few doubted Raj when he vowed to teach his parent party a lesson. With his fiery temperament, proven zeal and even his striking physical resemblance to Bal Thackeray, there was a general belief that Raj would avenge what he saw as a slight when Bal Thackeray anointed his son Uddhav instead of Raj as the head of the Sena. The rift between the two cousins is now legendary, with each claiming the traditional Maharashtrian support base as his own. Punters at the time bet that Raj would outdo the mild-mannered Uddhav, who had never shown any inclination towards politics. The MCGM victory, along with victories in other corporations in the State (though not as outstanding as before), will certainly go a long way in endearing Uddhav to Sainiks and justifying Bal Thackeray's succession choice. For Raj, the uphill climb is not over, but he has undoubtedly come a long way since 2006.

When the MNS was launched in 2006, the Mumbai corporation elections were a mere 10 months away. Raj wisely said that his fledgling party would be unable to make a mark in that election. Instead, he said, he was working towards the 2012 elections. In 2007, the MNS won seven seats, but this time, as promised by Raj, the party got 28. It also did well in Thane, Pune and Nashik, areas that the Sena considers its stamping grounds. In Nashik, which has seen a struggle between the Sena and the MNS for the past five years, the MNS has emerged as the single largest party, winning 40 seats in the 122-member corporation. This entitles the MNS to put forward its candidate for the mayoral post, a first for the party. The Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine managed to win 35 seats and the Sena came third with 33.

The MNS, which has fared creditably winning 112 seats in nine corporations, bears watching. Yet, there is a sense of disappointment among MNS workers. Asha Karandikar, an MNS supporter and a worker from A-ward in South Mumbai, says she thought her party would fare better. For the past five years we have all worked very hard to please voters. Our ambulance services are very popular and whenever people have problems with water or sanitation, we guide them. I don't know why our candidate from here did not win.

The problem seems to lie with the fact that the MNS revolves around Raj and his charisma. In a sense Raj's image and personality are so overwhelming that he actually overshadows his party and its candidates. To that extent the MNS is similar to the Sena, which still derives its strengths from Bal Thackeray. What the MNS did successfully (but unwittingly) was to assist the Sena-BJP victory by cutting into the votes of the Congress and the NCP.

For the Congress-NCP combine, which rules the State, losing the municipal elections in Mumbai consistently has been a matter of frustration and shame. It had been hoped that Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan would improve the chances of the Congress, but considering what he has inherited from his political predecessors, it is perhaps an unfair expectation. From 61 seats in 2002, the Congress' tally fell to 28 in 2007 and rose slightly this time to 50. The NCP's fortunes did not swing so wildly: it won 12, 14 and 14 seats in the respective elections.


The NCP took a beating in this election. With a relatively strong presence in Pune, the party was so confident of emerging as the single largest party that it did not ally with the Congress, saying it preferred to distance itself from the Pune-based disgraced Congress Member of Parliament Suresh Kalmadi, who is caught in the Commonwealth Games scam. The party paid the price for this. Not only did its Mayor lose his seat but one of its sitting corporators lost to the MNS candidate. The Congress surged ahead leaving the NCP floundering, depriving it of the majority it hoped to get. However, the politics of convenience dictated the rest of the story with a quick post-poll alliance between the Congress and the NCP, assuring the latter of a say in the Pune Municipal Corporation.

In sum, from a State-wide perspective it would be correct to say that the Sena fared much better than other parties. The BJP, never a prominent player in Maharashtra's civic elections, improved its lot marginally but essentially continues to hang on to the Sena's coat-tails. Both the Congress and the NCP had to contend with the fact that the Samajwadi Party fielded its own candidates and took away a sizable chunk of Muslim votes. Another setback was the decision of their long-time ally, the Ramdas Athavale faction of the RPI, to go with the Sena-BJP combine.

Success in civic body elections need not necessarily translate into success in the Assembly elections, but the Congress and the NCP must heed the warning signs in the continuing victory of the Sena and the ascending star of the MNS, especially since Assembly elections are due in 2014.

Sign in to Unlock member-only benefits!
  • Bookmark stories to read later.
  • Comment on stories to start conversations.
  • Subscribe to our newsletters.
  • Get notified about discounts and offers to our products.
Sign in


Comments have to be in English, and in full sentences. They cannot be abusive or personal. Please abide to our community guidelines for posting your comment