The real battle
this Assembly election is between two regional parties, the Shiv
Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS). The splintering of the
Marathi vote, a significant determinant in poll outcomes, is likely
to be the severest in the Mumbai-Thane belt.
More than ever,
the division of Marathi vote is central to Congress’ prospects, as
was seen in the Lok Sabha elections. The party’s future would be as
good as the performance MNS puts up.
region accounts for 60 of the 288 Assembly seats in Maharashtra. The
biggest splitter this season, the MNS, is fielding 49 candidates in
this belt. The Sena is fielding 40, while its alliance partner
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is fielding 20.
For the first
time, rebellion, which had hitherto plagued the Congress-NCP
combine, is set to strike the Sena. The party’s long-standing
dominion has been severely threatened in the hotly contested Mahim
seat (Dadar before delimitation).
Mahim has been in
the eye of the storm lately for creating the star rebel Sada
Sarvankar. Having been denied ticket in favour of a rank debutant,
TV anchor Adesh Bandekar, the Sena leader walked off to the rival
Congress camp in a huff. He is now contesting on Congress ticket.
State Industries Minister Narayan Rane, a former Sainik, was the
mastermind behind this defection.
Mahim promises a
cutthroat contest among Mr. Sarvankar, Mr. Bandekar and Nitin
Sardesai of the MNS — all eying the same Marathi vote base.
candidature will be a double-whammy for the Sena in Mahim. The
constituency has a sizeable Muslim and Christian population. As a
Congress candidate, Mr. Sarvankar will draw votes from these groups
in addition to those from his erstwhile Sena support base. His angry
followers had stoned the house of senior Sena leader Manohar Joshi
over speculation that Mr. Sarvankar would be bypassed for Mr.
Joshi’s associate Milind Vaidya. However, Mr. Bandekar made the cut
Still, the impact
Mr. Sarvankar’s exit will have remains to be seen. For one, Sena was
leading in this segment in the Lok Sabha elections by a good 9000
votes, followed by the Congress, with the MNS coming a close third.
This was because of the staggering popularity of and goodwill for
the Sena’s four-term MLA Suresh Gambhir, who also enjoys Muslim
support. In Mr. Gambhir’s absence, more Sena votes are likely to
move to the MNS than was seen in the Lok Sabha elections.
Two, with less
than 1,000 votes between the MNS and the Congress in the Lok Sabha
elections, the former seems to have a better claim to the Sena votes
than Mr. Sarvankar. Three, people say Mr. Sardesai is a strong
candidate, while there is hardly any real excitement about the TV
What might affect
the MNS in Mahim is the defection of Raj Thackeray’s close associate
Shweta Parulkar to the Sena in July this year. She had contested the
Lok Sabha elections and bagged 34,000 votes in this segment.
in the Lok Sabha elections and the consolidation of the north Indian
and Muslim vote may work in the party’s favour.