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BMC elections: Shiv Sena faces tough fight to retain its traditional central Mumbai turf

While the rivals are keen on targeting Sena's support bases across state, a concerted attempt has been made to loosen the party’s grip over central Mumbai in view of the BMC elections.

Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray

The erstwhile working class neighbourhoods of central Mumbai – stretching from Dadar to Worli, as well as Lower Parel and Parel – are deemed as an impregnable fortress of the Shiv Sena since the 1960s.

While the Shiv Sena asserted its dominance over these neighbourhoods after a terse political battle with leftist trade unions in the late 60s and 70s, the party led by Uddhav Thackeray is now bracing itself for another round of slugfest with the Shinde faction and the BJP, which are working on wooing its support base that played a key role in shaping the Sena’s political destiny in Mumbai. The MNS, too, is keen on decimating the Shiv Sena’s support base in these areas.

While the rivals are keen on targeting Sena’s support bases across state, a concerted attempt has been made to loosen the party’s grip over central Mumbai in view of the BMC elections.

Experts said recent events like the tussle between the two Sena factions over the Shivaji Park venue for Dussehra rally, BJP’s Dahi Handi celebrations at Jambori Maidan in Worli as well as its Marathi Dandiya programme in Chinchpokli, indicate that the prestige of garnering support from south central Mumbai for the polls is on everyone’s mind.

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Last week, Chief Minister Eknath Shinde had visited Worli – MLA Aaditya Thackeray’s constituency – and spoke to the residents who will be affected by the Worli-Sewri connector project.

“The movement is not only about which party wins BMC polls from Dadar, Worli or Parel, but about denting Thackeray-led Sena’s hold in its bastion. Eventually, breaking up the backbone of its support will impact the long term survival of the faction,” Sanjay Patil, a researcher at University of Mumbai, said.

The area historically has a large number of Marathi speaking voters, considered hardline Sena loyalists, and the party banks on them to win a handful of seats.

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There are 16 electoral wards that approximately make up for areas of Dadar, Lower Parel, Parel and Worli in south central Mumbai, all of which had elected Sena corporators in 2017. The party, however, had not done so well in these areas in the 2012 polls, with the local residents backing MNS considerably. The Raj Thackeray-led MNS had won six of the wards while the Sena won eight. The BJP drew a blank.

In 2017, the BJP, however, emerged as runner-up in seven of the 16 wards. The party has made a concerted attempt to make inroads into this area, which due to the gradual gentrification has seen an inflow of Gujarati and Marwari community members who are seen as BJP supporters.

“The BJP is also attempting to make cultural inroads in this area. Until 2017, Sena and BJP were in alliance, and Sena never allowed the BJP to enter these areas. This was expected in alliances, as there is an understanding that pockets where either party has a stronghold are untouched by the other. But it is too early to predict if Sena will be able to retain its large winning margins or its popularity is dwindling,” Patil said.

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The gradual support being extended to MNS by BJP and its alliance with the Shinde faction has caught the Sena in a pincer move. The Sena has also suffered defections of key local leaders. Sadanand Sarvankar, MLA from Mahim constituency – which spans Mahim to Dadar and Prabhadevi – had joined Shinde after the June rebellion. His son Samadhan Sarvankar, who had also jumped ship, was a former corporator from ward 194.

While Sena continues to exudes confidence of retaining its hold, analysts believe that while the party still has substantial support base, its rivals have managed to find a chink in its armour when it comes to central mumbai.

Deepak Pawar, a senior political analyst said, “I will not say it is impossible to dethrone Sena because there are a lot of variables, such as changing demography, aspirations and the role MNS will play in taking away Sena’s Marathi votes, to name a few. But it will not be so easy to shake Sena’s support base due to its organisational support and its emotional connect with the voters.

First published on: 29-09-2022 at 00:06 IST
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