WARD 98 in Bandra is not a very special location, apart from the fact that outgoing Deputy Mayor Alka Kerkar of the BJP is contesting the ensuing election to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation from here. And yet, the political developments around Ward 98 — and a clutch of other suburban electoral wards — are being studied closely by top leaders cutting across party lines. The Congress has fielded Harpreet Kaur Chadha. The Sena has nominated Arvind Shisatkar, a former Congressman. According to many, this will ensure a division of the locality’s considerable Maharashtrian votes between Kerkar and Shishatkar. According to many in the BJP, this could pave the way for the Congress’s Chadha to win.
Similar situations in the neighbouring wards, which together comprise BJP city chief Ashish Shelar’s constituency, are garnering the interest of senior politicians. In Ward 100 or Pali Village, the Shiv Sena has picked Binal Fernandes, a resident of Andheri West, to stand against the Congress’s Karen D’mello. “The Sena’s candidate is an outsider here, clearly weaker than the Congress candidate. It appears that the Sena wants victory for the Congress candidate,” says a senior BJP leader. The BJP candidate here is Swapna Mhatre.
Not long ago, Shelar accused the Sena and the Congress of having a tacit understanding on as many as 40 seats. His charge was that the Sena was working with the Congress to keep the BJP out of the reckoning in these wards. Both the Congress and the Sena are quick to deny any pact, but in Bandra, Shelar’s constituency, local BJP leaders say the strategy adopted by the two parties was to coordinate in order to ensure the BJP candidates’ defeat, in a deliberate attempt to clip Shelar’s wings.
“Both of them have only one agenda — that is to defeat BJP. Sena and Congress decided to give suitable candidates against each other with a view to corner BJP candidates,” says Shelar.
With Sena’s daily mouthpiece Saamana reacting to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s jibe at former PM Manmohan Singh by praising development works done by previous Congress governments, the whispers of a friendly match in some wards between the Sena and the Congress have grown louder. Saamana has also said developments being presented as poll-promises and achievements by the BJP in the state government, such as the Metro Rail, were actually prepared during the previous Congress-NCP regime. The newspaper has also referred to Manmohan Singh as a “gentleman”.
One BJP leader refers to the camaraderie between late Sena supremo Bal Thackeray and Bollywood actor and senior Congress leader, the late Sunil Dutt, who represented Bandra. “Most of the seats in Bandra (West) were contested by Sena (during the Sena-BJP alliance) but were won by the Congress. It has always been a Congress bastion,” says the leader. “Recently, many Congressmen joined the Sena, even that was at the behest of the local Congress leader,” he adds.
Meanwhile, former Congress MLA Krishna Hegde, who represented Vile Parle, points out that the Congress has not fielded a single Maharashtrian candidate in the electoral wards falling in the Vile Parle assembly constituency. Now a vice-president with the BJP, Hegde says there are approximately 1.4 lakh registered Maharashtrian voters in Vile Parle. “The fixing began six months back when all elected Congress block presidents were dismissed without reason and new block presidents were appointed in an autocratic manner without even consulting the MLA candidates,” says Hegde, who recently switched to the BJP. “The Congress itself has ensured that it will not get more than 25 seats,” he adds.
Another BJP leader says the candidate fielded by the Congress in Ward 191 in Shivaji Park, Dadar, raises doubts. “In a Marathi-dominated area such as Shivaji Park, the Congress has offered people a Gujarati candidate, Roshna Shah, against the Sena’s Vishakha Raut and MNS’s Swapna Deshpande. It is to ensure that BJP does not get the approximately 8,000 Gujarati votes of the area,” says the BJP leader. Interestingly, Congress candidate Roshna Shah is the wife of Ashwin Shah, a former Congressman and now the Sena’s deputy zonal head in Dadar.