At the BJP headquarters in central Mumbai’s Dadar, it was like a roller-coaster ride. From anticipation to enthusiasm to uncertainty, party supporters went through a host of emotions as counting ended and the final numbers came in. The party finally won 82 seats and broke into celebrations across the city. The day was off to a slow start. Though elaborate arrangements had been made on the third floor of Vasant Smruti, BJP’s Mumbai headquarters in Dadar, it remained mostly deserted during the first hour of counting as the party trailed the Shiv Sena. After having predicted a count of between 70 to 80 seats, the usual faces of the party, including Mumbai BJP vice-president Mohit Kamboj, secretary Vivekanand Gupta, and spokesperson Niranjan Shetty huddled to cross-check the numbers with each other.
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“If after being around since 1966, the Shiv Sena is unable to be the single largest majority, it is time for the party members (of Shiv Sena) to introspect,” said Shetty, adding that while Sena was riding high on the Marathi sentiment, BJP was banking on its “transparent governance” reflecting the party’s confidence that it would make inroads in the Sena-dominated areas of Parel, Lalbaug and Dadar.
Meanwhile, Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar and Education Minister Vinod Tawde refrained from making public appearances and tracked the results in the former’s office inside the party headquarters. While Tawde stepped out a little past noon, Ashish emerged only after the final result came in. Talks of party senior Kirit Somaiya, whose son Neil was contesting from Ward 108, missing the celebrations made the rounds. “There are talks that Neil might lose so the Somaiya senior might skip making a public appearance,” said a party worker who did not wish to be named.
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Till 11 am, Sena was leading in 36 wards compared to BJP’s 25. When Neil won, the mood appeared to brighten and supporters started to trickle in. But it was only after the BJP crossed the 40 mark (seats on which the party was leading) that supporters started celebrating. Office-bearers stepped out after noon to dance to drum beats and burst firecrackers to mark the BJP’s lead in 40 wards — a feat that Sena’s Sanjay Raut had doubted that the BJP was capable of. Tawde, who joined the celebrations before leaving office, said the BJP’s feat was like a slap on Raut’s face.
However, celebrations came to a standstill and the enthusiasm was dampened after Vinod Shelar, Ashish’s brother, lost in Ward 51 to Sena’s Swapnil Tembawalkar and after the Sena’s lead rose to 86 and the BJP’s lead remained stagnant at close to 54. Party leaders lowered their expectations to 60 then. The calm was broken by a group of Shiv Sena supporters who started sloganeering outside the party office. A big group of BJP supporters rushed down for a face-off. The sloganeering between the parties created a ruckus and police had to intervene.
While party higher-ups are yet to decide on the future course of action, talks in the lower rungs indicated a disinterest in an alliance. “We know that the parties have split and come together in the past but this time Sena has crossed all limits,” said a BJP worker who did not wish to be named.
When it was clear that BJP trailed behind Sena’s 84 seats by just three, Ashish Shelar made an appearance to congratulate party workers. He said while the Sena was initially leading in a number of wards, the BJP’s feat was bigger. “While the Sena’s seat count increased from 75 in the last election to 83 (final tally was 84), the BJP’s seat count has become threefold (32 in last election to 82),” said Shelar.
CM Devendra Fadnavis and Maharashtra BJP president Raosaheb Danve came down to the Dadar office to commend the efforts put in by the party workers. “The people of Mumbai and Maharashtra have shown their support and belief in the transparency of Narendra Modi’s government (at the Centre),” said the CM to an applauding audience of supporters. He said the BJP’s core committee would decide the future course of action.