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Mumbai Elections

The Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance triumphed in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections for the fourth consecutive time, in spite of a dismal performance record. The Congress Party did its best to help the alliance win with its infi ghting, openly airing inner-party differences and even acting on them.

COMMENTARY

Mumbai Elections

Congress Self-destructs, the Sena-BJP Alliance Triumphs

Lina Mathias

latter would eat into the former’s votes. Despite this, the Congress ended up with a lower tally (a decline of 21 seats) than what it held earlier, while the NCP maintained its 14 seats.

With the assembly elections scheduled for 2014, Chavan had declared this contest to be between the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) and the BJP-led National

The Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance triumphed in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections for the fourth consecutive time, in spite of a dismal performance record. The Congress Party did its best to help the alliance win with its infighting, openly airing inner-party differences and even acting on them.

Email: lina@epw.in

I
f the Congress Party had decided to gift the recent Brihanmumbai Muni cipal Corporation (BMC) elections to the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party-Republican Party of India (Athavale) combine, it could not have done a better job. Along with ally Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), it seemed hell-bent on proving that it had learned nothing and forgotten everything of its experiences in the last three civic elections. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan who worked overtime to ensure a tie-up with the NCP showed that his arithmetic was flawless when it came to calculating the combined strength based on the 2007 elections. But not even he could conjure up the most important factor in local civic elections: a strong network of local cadre and party workers who are familiar and visible to residents throughout the year. Neither could he contain the Congress’ perennial sin: infighting and airing every grievance before an obliging media. City Congress Members of Parliament (MPs) warned him against going with the NCP and sure enough, Congress hopefuls denied a ticket to accommodate the ally, fought as independents dividing precious votes.

All the signs seemed to portend that the 16-year reign of the saffron alliance in the country’s richest civic body would end. The administration appeared utterly indifferent towards complaints about the city’s near absent civic amenities. Nor did the regular media reports detailing the networking between corrupt contractors, corporators and civic officials in almost every area of civic affairs make any difference. The bitter feud between the Thackeray cousins Uddhav (Shiv Sena – SS) and Raj (Maharashtra Navnirman Sena – MNS) continued, indicating that the

March 10, 2012

Democratic Alliance. The party’s city chief Kripashankar Singh (who has since resigned, following a high court directive in a disproportionate assets case) was for long at loggerheads with Congress city MPs Gurudas Kamat, Priya Dutt, and Sanjay Nirupam (who is the party’s north Indian face and thus Kripa Shankar’s rival). These MPs were unhappy with Kripa Shankar’s choice of candidates, and the chief minister’s insistence on allying with the NCP.

Mumbai’s importance to the nation’s economy and especially to the hundreds of migrants who pour in daily hardly needs reiteration. And while its residents now complain about how it is coming apart in every way, they are the fi rst to proudly propound its uniqueness. Of late, however, the pride in its being the most cosmopolitan city has become muted. The city to which Gerald Aungier (governor of Bombay in 1672) invited Parsi ship builders, traders from Surat and Hindu and Muslim craftsmen from other parts offering them protection and generous terms, now has an uneasy relationship with the “outsider”. After the SS toned down its anti-north Indian plank (it is a debatable point whether it did so in deference to ally BJP’s base in north India), its offshoot, the MNS, took it up aggressively. Its violence has been targeted mostly at the bhaiyyas from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who are now present in considerable numbers and are visible because they do many menial jobs, operate fruit and vegetable pushcarts and are the largest number among taxi and autorickshaw drivers.

The Elusive ‘Elite’

Mumbai’s low turnout in 2012 (45%) was in keeping with most other metro cities in India and with its own performance

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in 2007. It is rather unclear how the media and its pundits so blithely arrived at the conclusion that all the non-voters are the elite. It is doubtful whether even the lower middle class citizen who sends her child to a private school and accesses private medical services fi nds the BMC the most significant service provider other than in water supply. It is mostly in the slums and chawls where civic services take on importance that local politics and politicians matter.

There is another significant issue that is being debated of late and that is the very governance structure of the BMC. The municipal commissioner who has substantial executive powers is handpicked by the state government. Since it is invariably a loyal government bureaucrat, he or she is accountable technically and otherwise, to the state government and not the elected corporators. In fact, a new controversy has already taken off with the civic commissioner Subodh Kumar insisting that corporators would not get the Rs 1 crore development fund they were supposed to (which is separate from the corporator fund of Rs 35 lakh). The corporators are now readying for a battle (Hindustan Times, 27 February).

Besides, it is not as if the slum dweller is unaware that the BMC is a hotbed of corruption since she is the one who suffers its effects the most. There are a number of reasons why the “mobilisation” by party workers pans out better in the poorer areas. Residents not only need these activists more than their counterparts elsewhere, it is also very easy to determine who did not go out to vote in these areas. As one of them told this writer, “Our corporator did not have a cycle to his name earlier. Today he has two cars but we vote for him because when there is a crisis and he says he will help, he does. He even comes in the middle of the night if he is called.”

While the state chief minister is clearly considered to be an “outsider” foisted on the state, the major state departments, including home, are invariably held by non-Mumbaikars – an aspect that the SS has harped on repeatedly and successfully. Reports like the one that party president Sonia Gandhi will “decide the

Economic & Political Weekly

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March 10, 2012

CM’s fate” after the polls only reinforce the perception that local opinion is not valued.

The Other Congress

To begin with, the NCP does not have much political influence in the city or an appreciable local cadre network. It has one MP, three Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) and now, 14 corporators. The media has been gleefully reporting on the bitter wrangling between the two partners in the state government including the chief minister’s verbal duels with his NCP deputy Ajit Pawar. While the two parties were allies in four municipal corporations they were contesting separately in the other six that went to the polls at the same time as Mumbai. Besides, since both have a strong rural presence, the campaigning for the 27 zilla parishads saw some bitter contests between the two main rivals. All this of course was relayed by television and newspapers to Mumbai voters, especially by the Marathi media.

Both of Sharad Pawar’s moves – the 50% reservation for women in local civic bodies and the praise he heaped on Raj Thackeray – did not work either to garner support or eat into the Shiv Sena’s votes. Chavan candidly said that they had expected the MNS’ vote share to rise which did not happen and it bagged more seats instead. Congress insiders attributed the presence of 30 rebel candidates to the fact that seats were given to accommodate the ally. In their stronghold in Dharavi (which has six seats and of which it held five) the party ended up with just one this time. The NCP also miserably underestimated the ability of their long-time dalit ally, Ramdas Athavale to attract dalit votes. This meant it ended up not only ignoring Athavale but also failing to take steps to contain the situation.

Micromanagement Pays

This time around the SS-BJP took the RPI (Athavale) on board though the latter was unhappy with the fact that only 29 seats were allotted to him. With its large pool of youth workers, the SS could put up fresh candidates in nearly 90 seats which might have helped beat the

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anti-incumbency factor partially. While almost all parties faced a problem when putting up candidates for the seats reserved for women, the SS was able to deal with it the best. It has a large female cadre and its women’s wing is very active. Besides, “CEO” Uddhav Thackeray allowed the local shakhas to run the campaign as they saw fi t while conducting an overall supervision. Added to all this is the Shiv Sena’s loyal Marathi voter network which, rain or shine, faithfully queues up to vote for it, the allegiance being largely to Thackeray senior. However, the SS will be left looking over its shoulder more than ever in the next five years. The MNS is now a serious rival to contend with.

The MNS won 28 seats (infi ghting in Parel and Lalbagh led to a rather poor performance in these areas) and came second in almost 30. The party also reaps the benefits of being a new organisation. As some dalit voters miffed with Athavale admitted to this writer, “We will never vote for the SS-BJP, but we are willing to give Raj a chance. Let’s see what he does”. But the much-talked about MNS coup is that of winning all the seats in the Dadar-Mahim belt including the area where the Shiv Sena Bhavan stands. It was in these areas that some of the SS giants were slain by young candidates.

While a dedicated team of the local cadre of the MNS carried out all the paperwork and other logistical work, the candidates were left free to campaign door to door and meet as many of the potential voters as possible. This is obviously a strategy that worked well and is attributed to the thinking of the local MLA, Nitin Sardesai.

Fair Pound of Flesh?

With 65% of the city’s population living in slums or on the street, it does not require great acumen to know where the potential voters are. During every civic election, the media carries reports albeit with anonymous quotes and sources detailing the haldi-kunku gifts to women and distribution of currency to men. This time was no exception. As one resident of a slum colony in the eastern suburbs told this writer on the day of

COMMENTARY

polling, “No one in our colony slept last night. All the bhais were there bidding till nearly 5 am. Our area is very important because of redevelopment and the people know this.”

This time even housing societies were approached with offers of building roads in colonies, digging bore wells and giving the buildings a much-needed coat of paint. Needless to say, these were not unwelcome. In many areas, senior citizens are taken on day-long pilgrimages to the city’s religious shrines, with travel, food and recreational expenses all paid.

Even more depressing is the admission by the State Election Commissioner Neela Satyanarayan that “fair polls are not possible as money and liquor fl ow freely” (DNA, 14 February). “The SEC cannot do much except demand the accounts of the parties and ask candidates to disclose how much they spent on campaigning. What saddens me most are the demands made by voters from the candidates – free holidays, goodies and other favours.”

Selfl ess Service

The RPI (Athavale) ended up winning just one seat in the city. However, the dalit leader proudly said that his party had helped the SS-BJP attract dalit and minority votes. How this is supposed to help the party grow is anybody’s guess.

In fact, Athavale had lost to the SS candidate in Shirdi in the 2009 parliamentary elections. Then, he had held the Congress responsible for his defeat. Though he was part of the Sharad Pawar camp, Shirdi had been allotted to the Congress at that time in seat sharing. One more proof, if needed, of how the NCP-Congress support each other’s candidates during an alliance! Also, the RPI now seems to be glossing over the fact that while its dalit votes helped the SS-BJP, why did not the saffron votes help its dalit candidates? RPI activists explain the poor results by saying that the party’s symbol was allotted only four days before the polling and it was too late to familiarise voters with it! Older dalit voters were none too happy about Athavale’s alliance with the saffron parties though they were all praise for the help he had been to the community as transport minister in Pawar’s government in the state earlier.

Muslim Vote

The chief minister had announced that he was working to “consolidate the secular vote” and finish off the communal parties in the BMC elections. When the results came in, he said that the Samajwadi Party (SP) had split the Congress-NCP’s secular vote share. This is rather strange logic. Did Chavan expect the SP to abstain from the elections? What were the Muslim leaders in the Congress and NCP doing to garner these votes? And in any case, why did not the Muslims want to vote for the Congress when they have traditionally done so? Perhaps, this is what the promised introspection should also focus on.

Half the House

The 50% reservation for women has created a large female presence in the BMC. But the quota has proved to be a mixed blessing of sorts for many. For, seats which had sitting women corporators who had nursed their constituencies were given to male candidates.

All parties had to fall back on the kith and kin of male leaders/workers.

This happened in the SS too. It put up the 21-year-old engineering student Anusha Kodam in the Dharavi Transit Camp seat reserved for OBC women. This is a Congress bastion but Kodam won by 789 votes. While she campaigned aggressively she admitted that her brother had been a SS member for 15 years and was instrumental in getting her the ticket. No marks for guessing under whose “guidance” she will do her civic work.

Similarly, the SP’s Dilshad Ashraf Azmi won from ward 158 in Kurla with a margin of 62 votes. Until the elections, she had never done any political work. Her husband who won from the adjoining ward told the media that his brother had worked hard in the area but it got reserved for women. The sister-in-law was put up and won and as the proud husband said, “She will be the face of this ward. However, my brother will be handling all the work” (Hindustan Times, 24 February).

So Far Away

And what of the voters who want the BMC to address the problems of water supply, school education and other problems of the citizen? Tanuja Raool (32), Sumitra Dhabade (45), and Shakuntala Kamble (50), all domestic workers and

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members of the Gharkamgar Molkarni crystal clear: an end to alcohol abuse in each towards the campaign expenses of Sanghatana had also stood for elections their respective wards. After that they these spunky women. (Mid Day, 9 February). would deal with the problems of domestic They lost, of course, but perhaps at the

They were put up by the Communist workers, and water and education. Their risk of repeating a cliché, they truly em-Party of India and their agenda was fellow members contributed Rs 100 body the spirit of the gritty Mumbaikar.

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