Even as political parties compete to woo the major communities in the city, the key to the polls may well be the Marathi voters — the core base of the Shiv Sena — many of whom draw psychological support from and take pride in the homegrown party. Besides Shiv Sena which gave tickets to close to 200 Marathi candidates, the BJP and the Congress also have chosen around 17 and 111 Marathi speaking candidates respectively. By sticking to some of the core issues including Marathi pride, the Sena has managed to retain power in the city for two decades although it did suffer a setback in the 2012 civic polls with the MNS eating into its votes winning around 28 seats.
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With MNS not viewed as a major threat this time around, there is likely to be less of a division of Marathi votes this time, which may help the Sena.
When the Sena was formed in 1966, says writer Dwarkanath Sanzgiri, the Maharashtrian population in Mumbai was around 38 per cent. “Over the last 50 years, the percentage of Maharashtrian people has reduced as many of them moved out of Mumbai and migrants started coming in. In my childhood, Girgaum was largely dominated by Maharashtrians. Now, the Maharashtrians are in minority in Girgaum. It is similar in other Marathi areas in the city. So, politics based only on Marathis is not possible,” he says.
During the Assembly polls in 2014, Sanzgiri adds, the Maharashtrians chose the Sena over the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which also plays the Marathi card. The Sena and the BJP won an equal number of seats in the city in the Assembly elections. “This civic election is a complicated one. BJP is also playing the Marathi card. The election will also show the impact of demonetisation,” he says. “A section of the Marathi people in the city will still choose BJP over Sena due to their ideology. But, if the MNS candidate is weak then the people are likely to vote for the Sena candidates. The people do not think whether Sena is good or bad as the Maharashtrian people find psychological support in Sena in a city like Mumbai,” says Sanzgiri .
Senior journalist Sunil Tambe, however, says the Sena is always sidelined in areas dominated by Maharashtrians. “The Sena secures a hold in areas wherein the Marathi speaking community is in a minority. Sena is only benefited by the minority politics of Maharashtrian people,” says Tambe.
According to him, “The inferiority complex among Marathis and the feeling of being in a minority will make Maharashtrians vote for the Sena. Though the BJP and MNS will try to play the Marathi card, it will not work much for them. Even a section of BJP supporters who are Maharashtrians may also vote for the Sena in this civic elections. The Marathi speaking people will vote like the Muslims do.”
Sanjay Pawar, screenplay writer, says the division of Marathi votes will be less this time compared to the last elections in 2012. “The Marathi people have sympathy for Uddhav for whatsoever reasons. Since the MNS is no longer a major player in this polls, the Sena will benefit from it. Also, some of the loyal supporters of the Congress and NCP may even vote for the Sena to stop the BJP from coming to power in the Mumbai civic body. It is precisely because there is an inner current in the minds of the Marathi people about the increasing dominance of the Gujaratis in Mumbai,” says Pawar.
Saying that there are few complaints against the Sena corporators, Pawar indicates that Sena corporators have built their credibility among the people on their own. “People may be unhappy or may have different opinions on Sena about the roads, garbage or other issues. The Sena base in many areas is due to their corporators’ work and credibility in the area,” he says.
The Sena and the MNS fear for their existence in the city. “So, they are making the old promises. And also, reaching out to other communities such as Gujarati, North Indians and Dalits to retain power in the city. Is this the way to rule the city,” says writer Kiran Nagarkar.
Sena legislator Anil Parab is confident that those speaking Marathi would vote for the Sena en block. “We have been raising the issue of sons of the soil and will continue to do so. The people have now realised who stands for them during a crisis,” says Parab.