MUMBAI rose above its reputation Tuesday to record its highest-ever voter turnout for a municipal election, with 55.28 per cent of the electorate exercising their franchise, led in large part by an upsurge in voting in Maharashtrian-dominated localities in central Mumbai and the suburbs. The highest-ever turnout at polls to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) until now was in 1992, when 49 per cent polling was reported. The city has otherwise recorded an average 44 per cent turnout in the past civic polls.
Among the regions that witnessed the highest turnout were dense pockets of Maharashtrian residents. In Central Mumbai’s Dadar, Prabhadevi and Parel areas, the turnout was well over 55 per cent. In the far western suburbs of Magathane and Dahisar, the Marathi manoos came out to vote in numbers larger than ever before.
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The Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party, partners in the state government, contested Tuesday’s election against each other following the rupture of their alliance in the BMC that lasted over two decades. The heavy voting in areas populated by Marathi-speaking people appeared to be on account of the Shiv Sena’s emotional appeal to Mumbaikars following the acrimonious split.
Simultaneously, while the 2014 assembly polls had seen Gujarati-dominated pockets emerge as the most enthusiastic, that mood, palpable in Maharashtrian belts, was missing Tuesday in areas such as Kandivli, Borivali and Ghatkopar where large numbers of Gujarati-speaking voters live.
At 61.5 per cent, the highest turnout was recorded in R Central Ward (Charkop, Borivali), followed by 60 per cent in R North Ward (Dahisar, Magathane) and 60.5 per cent in T and S wards (Mulund, Bhandup). Among these, Borivali and Mulund have cosmopolitan and Gujarati-speaking voters, while the remaining are all dominated by Maharashtrian voters.
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In Central Mumbai’s Dadar area, Shivaji Park (Ward 191) recorded a 62.47 per cent turnout while the adjoining area of Kaburtarkhana and Kamgar Krida Kendra (Ward 192) recorded 60 per cent polling. Both are heavily Maharashtrian-dominated wards. Shiv Sena leaders said this was evidence of a large turnout of traditional Sena supporters casting their votes. They also said a huge number of senior Shiv Sainiks, many of them well into their sixties, had descended on the streets to cast their vote and drum up last-minute support for the party.
“Old timers above the age of 50 came out in large numbers in areas such as Shivaji Park, Kabutarkhana and Prabhadevi in Dadar, Parel and Sewri. They not only cast their votes but also ensured that others came out for voting. Overall, this has increased the voting percentage by around 5 per cent. Since these are all Sena areas, our tally in these pockets will surely go up this time compared to the last polls,” said a senior Sena office-bearer.
Another Sena leader, who has been actively involved in the party’s poll preparations, said this was a targeted strategy by the Sena to rope in old-timer Shiv Sainiks to make an appeal for Marathi asmita (pride) and for the prestige and survival of the Shiv Sena, seen as being sidelined by the BJP.
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“For the last three months, we have held meetings across the city. In all these meetings, we had asked the local shakha office-bearers to get in touch with the old Sainiks for the meetings in their areas,” a leader told The Indian Express. Political analysts admitted that the trends were indicative of Shiv Sena holding an advantage as it bid to outperform the BJP in Mumbai.
The Daulat Nagar-Nensey Colony (Ward 11) in Magathane, where nearly 70 per cent voters are Marathi-speaking, witnessed over 65 per cent voting. Shiv Sena’s sitting corporator Riddhi Khursunge is locked in a fight here with BJP’s Prakash Darekar (BJP MLC Pravin Darekar’s brother). Similarly, in Dahisar (West) and Charkop, regions dominated by the Marathi-speaking population saw more voting than other regions.
In Ganpat Patil Nagar (Ward 1), Marathi voters outperformed the traditional high-voting North Indian belt too.
Borivali’s Ward 18 (Charkop) where over 60 per cent of the voter population is Marathi-speaking recorded 65.9 per cent voting. Another Maharashtrian-dominated ward in Borivali (Ward 16-Vazira Naka) saw 63.6 per cent polling. The remaining wards in Borivali where Gujarati voters are more dominant recorded lower turnouts.
Similarly, in Dahisar’s Anand Nagar-Avdhut Nagar (Ward 2), where 55 per cent of voters are Marathi-speaking, 63 per cent polling was reported.
Some wards that appeared to buck the general trend were localities having a mixed Marathi-Gujarati voter demographics such as Kapolwadi-Kirol village (Ghatkopar), Adarsh Dudhalaya-Bhadran Nagar (Malad), IC Colony-Shivaji Nagar (Dahisar) also witnessing very heavy turnout.
The former two were reported to have seen over 60 per cent voting, while the Dahisar ward witnessed a 58 per cent turnout. “The Shivaji Nagar segment where the Marathi-speaking population is sizeable saw over 64 per cent voting,” said a BJP poll manager here.
Meanwhile, organisations associated with the State Election Commission that had undertaken a slew of initiatives to improve voter turnout said the various measures had contributed their might to improving general awareness among voters. “It was a two-way communication with the election process, including initiatives such as a missed call and putting up the affidavits outside the pooling booth. This helped people understand the candidates, which is why the voting percentage may have risen,” said Ruben Mascarenhas, Chief Operations Officer of Operation Black Dot, one of the non-profit movements to spread voter awareness.
However, alongside some praise for the SEC’s initiatives, there was also a flood of complaints from across the city with voters unable to find their names on the electoral rolls despite having cast their vote in the 2014 general and assembly elections. In Andheri, one group of angry residents unable to find their names on the rolls made a presentation before the returning officer and assistant municipal commissioner of K West Ward office, but had to eventually return home without voting. They made a written application stating their complaint.
The Shiv Sena claimed that over 10 lakh names were missing.
Nikhil Desai, a citizen activist from King’s Circle, however, said the turnout had actually not risen due to the awareness initiatives by the State Election Commission. “The surge in voting percentage has happened due to the deletion of names, not because people have come out to vote. The number of people who voted this time is not very different. There was not much enthusiasm among the upper class,” said Desai. Others also pointed out that 2014’s Lok Sabha and assembly polls both saw Mumbai posting turnouts in excess of 52 per cent.
Among the areas that saw the lowest turnouts were H West (Bandra West) where approximately 53 per cent voted, K West (Andheri West, Lokhandwala, Juhu) that saw 47.39 per cent polling, and C and D wards (Bhuleshwar, Kalbadevi Malabar Hill, Walkeshwar) where 47.25 per cent exercised their franchise.
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