Friday, June 14, 2024

Electoral battle in Mumbai; explained

Maharashtra is the focal point as 13 constituencies, including six key seats in Mumbai, head to the polls on Monday during the fifth and final phase of the 2024 Lok Sabha elections. This concludes the state’s polling, which has unfolded over five phases on April 19, April 26, May 7, May 13, and May 20, with the vote count scheduled for June 4.

With 48 Lok Sabha seats, Maharashtra ranks as the second-largest contributor to the Lok Sabha, following Uttar Pradesh. Renowned for its political diversity and significant electoral sway, the state plays a pivotal role in shaping the national political scene. Over 2.46 crore eligible voters will determine the outcomes for 264 candidates at 24,553 polling stations from 7 am to 6 pm. The six Mumbai constituencies—Mumbai North, Mumbai North-West, Mumbai North-East, Mumbai North Central, Mumbai South Central, and Mumbai South—are hosting 120 candidates competing for seats.

The primary political parties vying for these Mumbai seats include the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), and the Congress, with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) also contesting one seat. The broader political contest in Maharashtra involves the Mahayuti (Grand Alliance) comprising Shiv Sena, BJP, and NCP, and the opposition coalition Maha Vikas Aghadi, which includes Shiv Sena (UBT), Congress, and NCP (SP). Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi is also competing in several seats.

Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena is fielding candidates in Mumbai South, Mumbai North West, and Mumbai South Central. The BJP is contesting seats in Mumbai North, Mumbai North Central, and Mumbai North East. Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena, in collaboration with the Maha Vikas Aghadi, is presenting candidates in Mumbai South, Mumbai South Central, Mumbai North East, and Mumbai North West. The Congress is competing in Mumbai North Central and Mumbai North.

Key candidates in the fray include Union ministers Piyush Goyal (Mumbai North), Bharti Pawar (Dindori), and Kapil Patil (Bhiwandi) representing the BJP, with advocate Ujjwal Nikam contesting from Mumbai North Central. Other prominent contestants are Shiv Sena’s Srikanth Shinde (Kalyan) and Mumbai Congress President Varsha Gaekwad (Mumbai North Central).

In Thane and Kalyan, the political stakes are high for Chief Minister Shinde, with his close associate Naresh Mhaske and his son Srikanth Shinde running as Shiv Sena candidates. In Palghar, the contest is marked by a showdown between the BJP and Shiv Sena (UBT), while Bhiwandi sees a major rivalry between the BJP and NCP (SP). Dhule is the scene of a BJP versus Congress clash, Dindori hosts a contest between the BJP and NCP (SP), and in Nashik, it’s Chief Minister Shinde’s Shiv Sena facing off against the Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT).

Political Background of Mumbai

Mumbai has long been a pivotal center for political activity in India, initially serving as the stronghold and birthplace of the Indian National Congress (INC). The city hosted the inaugural session of the INC on December 28, 1885, and continued to play a critical role for the party, hosting its National Conference six times in the first 50 years. However, the political landscape of Mumbai began to shift in the 1960s with the emergence of regional politics, notably marked by the formation of the Shiv Sena in 1966.

Founded by Balasaheb Thackeray, Shiv Sena was born out of discontent among the Marathi-speaking populace over the influx of non-Marathi workers. Initially, the party’s agenda centered on Marathi identity but pivoted towards Hindutva in 1985, forming a strategic alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This partnership led to significant electoral successes, including a decisive victory in the 1985 Mumbai Municipal Corporation elections and a crucial coalition in the 1989 Maharashtra assembly elections, aiming to disrupt Congress’s long-standing dominance.

In 1999, the Congress was dealt a blow when several members defected to establish the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Despite this division, the NCP eventually partnered with Congress in the Democratic Front coalition. Additional political groups, such as the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Samajwadi Party (SP), Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP), All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), and various independents, have also become significant players in Mumbai’s electoral scene.

Mumbai is divided into six Lok Sabha constituencies: Mumbai North, North West, North East, North Central, South Central, and South. In the 2019 national elections, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance swept all six parliamentary seats, with each party winning three. The Maharashtra state assembly, which includes 36 constituencies from Mumbai, saw the BJP secure 16 seats in the 2019 assembly elections, Shiv Sena 11, Congress 6, NCP 2, and one seat was won by an independent candidate.

Following the 2019 elections, Maharashtra’s political landscape experienced significant upheaval. Initially, the BJP under Devendra Fadnavis, and a faction of the NCP led by Ajit Pawar, briefly formed a government, but the coalition quickly disintegrated. Subsequently, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) was established, composed of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray faction), NCP, and Congress, with Uddhav Thackeray assuming the role of Chief Minister on November 28, 2019.

However, in June 2022, the MVA faced a major crisis when Eknath Shinde, leading a breakaway faction of the Shiv Sena, allied with the BJP. Uddhav Thackeray resigned just before a floor test on June 29, 2022, and Eknath Shinde was sworn in as the new Chief Minister the next day.

In the forthcoming elections on May 20, 2024, all constituencies in Mumbai will participate, showcasing the ongoing rivalry between the National Democratic Alliance (NDA)—which includes the BJP, Shiv Sena (Eknath Shinde faction), NSP (Sunil Tatkare faction), and Rashtriya Samaj Paksha—and the INDIA alliance, comprising the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Thackeray faction), Congress, and NCP. The electoral dynamics in Mumbai are intricate, shaped by longstanding loyalties, shifting alliances, and the evolving political ambitions of its diverse populace.

Mumbai: Population and Demographics

As per the 2011 census, Mumbai city had a population of approximately 10 million. The Mumbai metropolitan area, which includes a large number of slum dwellers, was home to about 9 million people living in slums. Among these, Dharavi, located in central Mumbai, is notable as Asia’s second-largest slum, with an estimated 800,000 to 1 million residents, making it one of the most densely populated areas in the world.

The religious composition of Greater Mumbai is varied, with Hindus accounting for 65.99%, Muslims 20.65%, Buddhists 4.85%, Jains 4.10%, Christians 3.27%, and Sikhs 0.49% of the population as of 2011. The city’s demographic profile also reveals a diverse ethnic and linguistic mix. Maharashtrians constitute 32% of the population, followed by Gujaratis at 20%, with the remainder coming from various parts of India.

Marathi, along with English, is the official and working language of Mumbai’s bureaucracy. The city is known for its multilingual population, a characteristic shared with India’s other major metropolitan areas. Sixteen major Indian languages are spoken in Mumbai, with Marathi and its dialects predominating, spoken by 35.30% of the population. Hindi is the second most common language, spoken by 25.90% of the population, primarily by laborers from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who migrate to Mumbai for employment. Other significant languages include Urdu (11.73%) and Gujarati (11.45%).

Minority languages such as Tamil, Marwari, Bhojpuri, Telugu, Konkani, Bengali, and Malayalam contribute to Mumbai’s rich linguistic tapestry, reflecting its status as a melting pot of cultures and communities.

Evaluating a decade of Narendra Modi’s rule

Evaluating a decade of Narendra Modi’s rule reveals a complex mix of public sentiment. Many people openly admit that issues such as rising prices of essential commodities, unemployment, increased petrol and CNG cooking gas costs, GST, and demonetisation have negatively impacted them during Modi’s ten-year tenure. Despite these concerns, they remain loyal supporters of Modi and the BJP, considering the construction of the Ram Temple and the growth of Hindutva significant achievements.

A legal clerk in Mumbai acknowledges the good governance but points out that issues of unemployment and price hikes are causing hardship for the people. Although his admiration for Modi has slightly waned since 2014, he still views the construction of the Ram Temple as a significant accomplishment.

Shinde, a driver in Mumbai, supports Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena in Maharashtra but favors Modi on a national level. He criticizes Rahul Gandhi and believes that Modi will continue as Prime Minister despite the challenges of inflation and unemployment under his leadership.

Even staunch Modi supporters acknowledge that inflation and unemployment have increased. However, they still prefer Modi over any other Prime Minister, recognizing that policies like GST and demonetisation have impacted their daily lives but expressing a desire to support Modi again.

Santosh, who works in a parking facility in Mumbai, is influenced by the construction of the Ram Temple and Modi’s initiatives in Dwarka. He values these accomplishments highly, though he anticipates a Shiv Sena-Congress coalition prevailing in Maharashtra.

Lakan Chaudhary, a photographer near the Taj in Mumbai, believes Modi has enhanced India’s global stature, asserting that everyone is happy and financially secure. He dismisses the notion of poverty, citing widespread mobile phone ownership as proof.

Gulabi Yadav, who operates a grain-grinding mill in Dharavi, is a staunch Modi supporter but acknowledges that price hikes, unemployment, and GST have negatively impacted their lives.

Overall, even pro-Modi voters in Mumbai recognize rising prices and unemployment as significant concerns. However, they avoid making openly anti-Muslim statements, continuing their support for Modi despite the economic challenges.

Shiv Sena: Voting patterns  

After the 2019 assembly elections in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena underwent significant changes. In 2019, Uddhav Thackeray ended his 35-year alliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). By 2022, Eknath Shinde challenged Uddhav, causing a split within the Sena and taking control of the party’s name and symbol. Uddhav’s faction is contesting the 2024 Lok Sabha elections as part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition, alongside the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). Meanwhile, the Shinde-led group is aligned with the National Democratic Alliance, which includes the BJP and the NCP faction led by Ajit Pawar.

The late Bal Thackeray, founder of the Shiv Sena, allied with the BJP based on their shared Hindutva ideology. This alliance was built on the belief that both parties had similar ideologies and could support the interests of Maharashtrians. Thackeray’s Shiv Sena opposed “immigrants” who, in their view, undermined Maharashtrian identity, as well as “secular parties” that they believed treated Muslims favorably.

Eknath Shinde claimed that Uddhav Thackeray leveraged his father’s legacy to garner support in the state but strayed from his ideals, leading to a rift within the party. He alleged that the Sena failed to acknowledge the significant contributions of other trusted regional leaders. Several leaders who joined Shinde’s faction have repeatedly stated that Uddhav’s decision to leave the BJP alliance and join forces with the Congress and the NCP under Sharad Pawar as chief minister was the breaking point. Shinde and his supporters frequently cite Bal Thackeray’s strong condemnation of any alliance with the Congress or NCP, emphasizing that Bal Thackeray had declared such a move would dissolve the party.

Describing it as an “unnatural alliance,” Shinde, along with 40 other MLAs, revolted and formed a government in support of the BJP. Subsequently, Ajit Pawar broke away from the NCP with several MLAs to support this new government. While Shinde framed his actions as a move to honor Bal Thackeray’s ideology, Uddhav denounced it as an act driven by greed.

The split in the Shiv Sena has added to the confusion and choices for voters.

Those who originally supported the Shiv Sena for its pro-Hindutva stance now often lean towards the BJP. Voters seeking regional representation can choose between the Sena UBT and the Shinde Sena.

For Shiv Sena Uddhav faction voters, two main interests prevail. Secular voters support Shiv Sena UBT, which is part of the INDIA alliance at the national level, as they aim to defeat Modi. Muslims also back the UBT faction because they view it as a strong opponent of the BJP and Narendra Modi, whom they perceive as a threat to their existence.

Meanwhile, the AIMIM, which has the only Muslim MP in Maharashtra—a state where 12% of the population is Muslim—argues that all factions of the Sena, regardless of their differences, adhere to a Hindutva ideology that promotes Islamophobia. They highlight the Sena’s history of anti-Muslim violence in their election speeches.

The VBA, led by Prakash Ambedkar, also occasionally joins in questioning the Sena’s secular credentials. Despite this, most Muslim voters in the state, except in Aurangabad where AIMIM contests, primarily support the UBT Sena. They see the UBT Sena as a key opponent of the NDA.

Elaborating on the difference between the Hindutva of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Shiv Sena (UBT), Maharashtra former Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray in his election speeches have been claiming that their brand of Hindutva “lights the stoves” in people’s homes and the BJP’s Hindutva “burns their homes.”

Syed Hussain, a taxi driver, believes the INDIA alliance will win in Mumbai, regardless of the party. “NCP, Shiv Sena UBT, Congress—whichever party, they will win. People have understood that the BJP is cheating them. They see that the BJP is using the ED and CBI to intimidate everyone. The main issue here is that Eknath Shinde betrayed the Shiv Sena.”

Mohammad Farooqui, a real estate broker in Dharavi, says to Maktoob, “We voted for Uddhav Thackeray Saab. But Shinde stayed with the party and sided with the BJP. He did wrong. None of the Marathi people consider the BJP their party.”

Meanwhile, many voters are confused about which forces to back. On one side is Thackeray’s name, but they also want Modi.

Shiv Sena workers who aim to make Modi Prime Minister again discuss their options. However, most people are reluctant to vote for Uddhav Thackeray’s faction. Traditionally, Shiv Sena supporters want Modi as Prime Minister, but the Shinde faction, having “betrayed” Uddhav Thackeray, does not want to support Shiv Sena Shinde. Nevertheless, none of them want to see Rahul Gandhi as their leader.

Conclusion

The final phase of the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra, especially in Mumbai, is pivotal in shaping the state’s political landscape and influencing the national narrative. With 13 constituencies, including six in Mumbai, going noto the polls, the state’s significant electoral influence is undeniable. Maharashtra, with its rich political diversity and historical significance, remains a key battleground for political parties vying for power.

The complex interplay of regional dynamics, shifting alliances, and the enduring legacies of key political figures like Bal Thackeray highlights the multifaceted nature of Maharashtra’s politics. The split within the Shiv Sena, represented by the factions led by Uddhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde, exemplifies the broader tensions between regional and national aspirations, presenting voters with conflicting loyalties and choices.

Amid economic challenges, rising prices, and unemployment, the enduring appeal of leaders like Narendra Modi and Uddhav Thackeray continues, albeit with varying degrees of support and scrutiny. The construction of the Ram Temple and Modi’s perceived accomplishments exist alongside concerns about governance and economic policies, influencing voter sentiment and electoral outcomes.

As Maharashtra heads to the polls, the electorate is faced with critical decisions that will not only determine the state’s political trajectory but also affect the broader national narrative. The results of these elections will undoubtedly have far-reaching implications, shaping the future direction of Maharashtra’s governance and its impact on the broader contours of Indian politics.

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