Despite the shrill campaigning by Congress, Shiv Sena and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) for the crucial bypoll for the Bandra East Assembly seat, the voter turnout on the polling day on Saturday was lukewarm as compared to the voting percentage in the past.
The constituency, with a total voter base of 2.65 lakh, recorded a turnout of about 42 per cent in the bypoll, necessitated due to death of sitting Shiv Sena MLA Prakash Sawant. In comparison, the turnout in the constituency was 47 per cent during the state Assembly elections of October 2014. During the Lok Sabha polls in April last year, the turnout in the assembly segment was 51 per cent.
This time, with turnout comparatively stronger in minority-dominated areas of Behrampada and Naupada, and in traditional Sena strongholds such as Government Colony and Teachers Colony, the going could be tough for Congress’s Narayan Rane for whom this poll could be career-defining. Muslim votes are expected to be split between Congress and an aggressive AIMIM, while the Sena could get much of the BJP’s support base since the two allies are backing a single candidate this time, Sawant’s widow Trupti.
About 50 per cent of the constituency’s voting population is Marathi-speaking, including Dalits, while about 30 per cent is Muslim.
Stalwarts from all parties such as Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Shiv Sena’s Uddhav Thackeray, NCP’s Sharad Pawar and the Owaisi brothers of AIMIM have campaigned for their candidates in the run-up to the bypoll.
Sada Sarvankar, Shiv Sena legislator from Dadar, said, “As per our readings, the turnout was close to 50 per cent in Government Colony and Teachers Colony. This is good for us as the votes for Shiv Sena, along with votes that BJP got during the Assembly election, can help us gain over 60,000 votes.”
During the Assembly elections in October 2014, Sena’s Sawant had got 41,388 votes to win the constituency, defeating his nearest rival BJP’s Krishna Parkar, who finished second with 25,791 votes. Together, the two parties got 67,179 votes. The AIMIM had finished third with 23,976 votes, nearly double of what Congress candidate got (12,229 votes).
Congress leaders have said that the candidate for the previous election, Sanjeev Bagadi, was a new face. They argue that having fielded a senior politician like Rane who has also been a former chief minister, the party could break into the Maharashtrian voter base as well as attract minority votes.
Waris Pathan, AIMIM legislator from Byculla, said, “We had hoped for the turnout to be much stronger, touching 50-60 per cent. However, as per calculations, the total number of Muslim votes could be about 40,000 to 42,000. We hope to get most of these.”
Congress and AIMIM also hope to corner those Muslim votes that could have gone to the BJP last time due to “Modi wave”.
Dnyaneshwar Nagar resident Shaikh Anwar is one such voter. “I had voted for the BJP last time as the Modi factor promised a change. However, the rising number of communal incidents all over the country is disturbing. The government is not doing anything about it. So, I have voted for Congress this time. Yes, Congress is responsible for inflation, but at least the party does not discriminate.”
Stakes are high for all in the fray. Since the seat has been with Sena since 2009 and Thackeray family’s home, Matoshree, falls in the constituency, the party considers it as one of its bastions that it cannot afford to lose.
For Rane, who cut his teeth with the Sena and jumped to Congress a decade ago, another defeat after the loss of his own seat of Sindhudurg would break his political career. For AIMIM, the election is key to cementing its fortunes in Maharashtra.