Having swept Mumbai’s six seats in 2009, the Congress-NCP alliance will still fancy its chances in at least two of those seats but could find it uphill maintaining the overall hold. Even BJP insiders concede that they expect Mumbai South and Mumbai North Central to stay with Milind Deora and Priya Dutt, respectively, while promising a strong fight in the remaining four seats.
The Congress-NCP’s campaign this election has been plagued by internal bickering, a highlight being the refusal of Sharad Pawar to share the dais with Rahul Gandhi on Sunday during the last phase of campaigning in the city. The emergence of the Aam Aadmi Party, too, threatens to cut into the Congress’s traditional voter base of Muslims and the underprivileged.
A lacklustre response to Raj Thackeray’s MNS could also affect the Congress-NCP, which owes part of its success to that party. In 2009, the MNS contested all six seats and polled over a lakh votes each, hurting the Shiv Sena-BJP with which it shares a common vote bank. The Sena-BJP candidates, who lost with margins between 3,000 and 50,000, would have won each seat with that extra one lakh-plus. In 2014, no such groundswell of support for Raj Thackeray is evident.
The battle between the Thackeray cousins, however, continues, with Raj concentrating all his effort to ensure the defeat of Shiv Sena candidates. He has added an element of confusion by announcing he supports Narendra Modi’s bid to the prime minister’s chair.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena are contesting three Mumbai seats each, and Raj has fielded his candidates only against the Shiv Sena. This has given the BJP candidates, particularly Kirit Somaiya from Mumbai North East and Gopal Shetty from Mumbai North, a better chance than their Sena allies.
BJP leader Gopinath Munde said Tuesday he will not seek the MNS’s help for Mumbai’s seats. “I have no hesitation admitting I had called Raj Thackeray and sought his party’s help in Beed, where the MNS was not contesting.”
For the BJP, a Modi rally Monday did not evoke the kind of response one last December did. Police estimates put the crowd strength at 30,000, only slightly higher than Rahul’s rally the previous day. Sonia Gandhi skipped Sunday’s rally citing health reasons.
Mumbai’s seats are a study of contrast. Realty in Mumbai South is the costliest in the country while Mumbai Northeast, home to some of the city’s poorest areas, was still throwing up polio cases till even a decade back.
The 99 lakh crore voters of the city have since 2004 backed the Congress-NCP alliance. The 2004 performance was credited to the Sonia-led resurgence of the party.