The Shiv Sena’s strong network of shakhas across 227 wards in Mumbai remains a big challenge for the BJP, which has already rolled out a roadmap for elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in 2017.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis will be the party’s mascot as the BJP wants to ride the development plank to counter the Sena’s three-decade dominance on “Amchi Mumbai”. But, penetrating every ward and giving a tough fight to the Sena remains a daunting task.
Therefore, the BJP state unit and the city unit are together working in tandem to take on the Sena in the commercial capital.
The party, in power both at the Centre and in the state, wants to capitalise on the mega projects undertaken in the last 18 months in Mumbai. “We are working on a two-pronged strategy. One is Mumbai’s development. Second is setting the political permutations and combinations right to counter the Sena at the grassroots,” a senior BJP functionary said.
Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar has already circulated a programme that begins with a “padyatra” from May 1 with an objective to mobilise and put together teams to push the poll agenda. In every ward, teams are being given pamphlets listing the works done by the government in Mumbai.
The party is also working to identify problems in every ward to expose the Sena. “We have good leaders and government support. But the Sena’s strength in every ‘gulli’ is a cause of concern,” said a BJP general secretary.
As a result, all party MPs and MLAs are being drafted to work with the ward units in their respective constituencies.
“Emotive issues will be interwoven with the development plank to reach out to the masses,” said a party leader.
“We will highlight how renaming Bombay to Mumbai was an initiative taken by senior leaders Ram Naik and the late Pramod Majahan, and executed by the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government at the Centre,” a BJP MLA said. “Similarly, the grand memorial of Chhatrapati Shivaji in the Arabian Sea, which had been on hold since 2004, was given clearance by the Narendra Modi government,” he said.
A series of celebrations evoking Shivaji to commemorate Maharashtra Day on May 1 is part of the pre-poll campaign.
In the 2012 BMC polls, the Shiv Sena (75) emerged as the largest party in the city bagging 227 wards. It was followed by the BJP (31), Congress (52), NCP (13), MNS (28) and others (28).
At party meetings held in Delhi and Mumbai over the past two weeks, city MLAs and MPs dwelt on whether they should focus on their traditional votebank of north Indians and Gujaratis and leave the Marathi plank to the Sena. Or, along with north Indians and Gujaratis, they should also work to win the Marathi manoos into its fold.