At each Shiv Sena shakha across Mumbai, a small blackboard highlights development works such as the coastal road, wharf ferry services and drinking water projects, to name just a few, as achievements under the leadership of party president Uddhav Thackeray. Till recently, the pink-and-blue chalk messages scribbled on these blackboards also served as a warning against migrants. Since the party’s formation on June 19, 1966, these little blackboards have survived, serving as the party’s most effective method of communication, even while going after migrants from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. However, today, the scenario has changed. Development has replaced the migrant plank for the Mumbai civic polls.
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Even the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which had upstaged the Sena in its anti-north Indian campaigns since its formation in 2006, is no longer making noises about ‘Marathi asmita’. At the MNS headquarters in Dadar, development — and not migrants — is what is being discussed.
Now, what are the factors that made the migrant plank redundant in Mumbai, and in Maharashtra politics? Have regional parties like the Shiv Sena and the MNS realised that divisive politics does not bring electoral dividends? Or, are they following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’s campaign model based on the development plank?
Prof R B Bhagat at the Department of Migration and Urban Studies, International Institute for Population Sciences, says, “Global studies have shown that anti-migrant politics survive only when there is a huge development deficit. When those at the helm of administration or governance miserably fail, it creates a vacuum fuelling public sentiments to become tools at the hands of parties playing divisive politics.”
For any politics to sustain, he says, it has to be based on the ground realities.
Explaining the migrant scenario in Mumbai, Bhagat says, “If we look at the census, the total migrants in the city and its suburbs in the year 2017 should work out to 8 lakh. The total population of Mumbai is 1.4 crore. The entire Maharashtra population is 11.25 crore. A majority of the migrants are from the north Indian states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. However, migrant population, which has shown a substantial increase in the extended suburbs, eastern and western, is not because of migrants from outside alone. Almost 50 per cent of the migrants come to Mumbai from backward villages or towns across Maharashtra.”
The Sena’s studied silence on migrants appears to be part of a well-calculated strategy to consolidate its base beyond the 26 per cent Marathi votebank in Mumbai. Thackeray has realised that to retain number one position in the BMC polls, they have to make inroads among Gujarati (17 per cent) and north Indian voters (20 per cent). Over this, another 37 per cent voters include south Indians, Bengalis, Rajasthanis and Punjabis.
According to a Sena poll manager, the aggressive anti-migrant agenda in the last three BMC polls may have helped to keep the party’s Marathi votebank intact but the number of seats won showed a steady decline from 100 to 75. This shows the Sena vote share has shrunk.
The BJP tally was 31 seats, MNS 28, Congress 52, NCP 13 and others 28 in 2012.
The BJP, with a pan-India image like the Congress, has often steered away from an emotive anti-north Indian plank even when it was in alliance with the Sena in the last three elections.
Says BJP’s Shrikant Bharatiya, “From a party with a difference, we have graduated to power with a difference.”
MNS general secretary Shalini Thackeray agrees that the party is now focusing on development. “Our commitment to sons of the soil remains. But we are highlighting development to expose the failures of the Shiv Sena and the BJP, in coalition in the BMC for the last 19 years. Why couldn’t the Sena give even good roads to Mumbai,” she says.