RIGHT before the elections, members of several parties left for greener pastures in other folds, but not all of them are finding the going easy. While many left after being denied a party nomination for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections, it appears that convincing voters to choose them as candidates from a different party is an uphill task. The Shiv Sena pulled off a major coup by inducting the head of the BJP’s Gujarati cell in Mumbai, Mangal Bhanushali, who had been denied a BJP ticket from Ghatkopar West. The very next day, disgruntled Shiv Sainiks expressed their anger over the party’s decision to nominate an outsider by damaging Bhanushali’s car. In the last week of campaigning, Bhanushali now finds Sena supporters still hesitant about supporting a long-time BJP leader, a Gujarati at that.
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Ward 131 has 22,000 voters, belonging to Gujarati, Marwari and Jain communities. Says Seema Jain, a resident of Pant Nagar: “We have always been supporting the BJP and its ideology. Bhanushali is not even from our ward.” Some sitting corporators of the Sena, on the other hand, defied the party to join the BJP, such as Nana Ambole from Parel and Dinesh (Bablu) Panchal and their respective spouses. But their prospects remain unclear too.
Another Sena heavyweight Prabhakar Shinde, a former leader of the House, is now contesting on a BJP ticket. Shinde, however, says he is confident of a win because people know him well in his locality, Mulund. “The BJP as a party has done great work — the MP and the MLA of the region are both from the BJP,” he says. Asked if Sena voters would be miffed, Shinde says he has nothing to do with the Sena anymore.
Similarly, the BJP suffered a jolt in South Mumbai when senior leader Janak Sanghavi joined the Congress to contest from Ward 221. The BJP is now fielding sitting MLA Raj Purohit’s son Aakash from this ward against Sanghavi, and the latter is expected to have a very tough fight.
Defections also hit the Samajwadi Party (SP), which lost two sitting corporators and another leader to the Congress. Corporator Ashraf Azmi joined the Congress along with his corporator wife Dilshad Azmi and brother Arshad Azmi. While Ashraf filed his nomination from Ward 165 in Kurla, Dilshad is contesting from Ward 167. “We had two winning seats but the Samajwadi Party only gave us one seat. We had no choice but to join the Congress. As far as voters are concerned, they see the work done by the candidates,” says Ashraf Azmi. According to locals, both stand a good chance.
Meanwhile, Changez Multani, an independent corporator from Jogeshwari’s Ward 53 who had recently joined the Congress, wasted no time in dumping the Congress after the party did not nominate him for the seat. Multani is contesting as an independent again. “I have worked very hard for the ward and don’t need any political banner to endorse me. It was the Congress which had invited me. They later gave the ticket to someone else,” he says.
While activists say the pattern of giving tickets to those who have just entered the party is evidence of political opportunism, the parties say winnability is not the only factor. Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar says the party hands out nominations democratically, and therefore more and more people are joining the BJP. “Sena has used the Marathi manoos issue and exploited the Marathi voters and now people know the truth. That’s why many Marathi corporators and leaders have left them to join us. They support our vision of development and transparency,” he adds. Shelar, however, says Sena too has inducted long-term BJP functionaries and two-term corporators like Harshad Desai and Mangal Bhanushali. “The Sena hasn’t even left our ward level leaders,” he says.
Mumbai Congress general secretary Sandesh Kondvilkar claims to have roped in “strong candidates”. “The major inductions in our party were Janak Sanghvi from BJP and Arshad Azmi and Dilshad Azmi from SP. These are strong candidates for us,” he says.