Spin doctors can take it easy. Look at it upar se
or neeche se
. Or look at it straight in the eye. There is only one conclusion after the results of Mumbai's civic body elections: it's an absolutely stunning and staggering saffron sweep.
The triumph is so huge that gone are the days when the losing side would have to make do as the main opposition party. Even that space - generally reserved for ideological rivals - could now go to the saffron parivaar
Here are 10 big take-aways from this election:
1. UDDHAV THACKERAY: POLE POSITION
First, what's clear is the big picture: by a very, very thin margin, Mumbaikars have reposed their faith in the Shiv Sena for the 5th straight time. It is by no means a small feat for a party to battle incumbency election after election and still emerge victorious.
With 84 of the 227 seats, Uddhav Thackeray's Sena is in pole position to run the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) as the single-largest party.
Though unlikely - never say never in politics - the BJP with 82 seats may choose to sit in the opposition if the two allies decide not to reunite.
2. FADNAVIS: MAN OF THE MATCH
However, it is Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who has emerged as the man of the match this election season as he has successfully been able to expand the BJP's footprint across the city and the state. The BJP has nearly trebled its tally, jumping from 31 in 2012 to 82 in 2017. That's phenomenal by any standard.
The Nagpur boy was picked up by the BJP to lead the state in 2014 because of his clean and honest image. And his party capitalised on it by making him the face of the Mumbai campaign. Every poster, every billboard flaunted Fadnavis and promised that he has given his "word" for development.
3. FADNAVIS' SIGNAL TO HIS BOSSES
It's not easy to dare the tiger in its own den. But Fadnavis almost single-handedly challenged the Sena on its home turf. The gambit has worked well and has placed his party in a comfortable position before the 2019 state elections. Moreover, Fadnavis has cemented himself as Mr Dependable in the eyes of the central leadership.
While its traditional vote bank of the Gujarati-Marwadi trader class backed the party, it also seems to have benefited by Raj Thackeray and his MNS falling from 27 to just 7 seats.
4. MODI'S DEMONETISATION: NOT AN ISSUE
What's also clear is that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's demonetisation was not an issue for Mumbaikars. Had it been - as claimed by the Sena and Congress - there would have been a mass revolt against the BJP and on voting day, the city would have expressed its voice.
In fact, even in smaller towns where elections have taken place and the BJP has shone, it reflects the same mood.
5. BJP: ONE POWER CENTRE
One reason for the upsurge of pro-BJP votes could be to ensure the city benefits with just one power centre. With several agencies controlling roads and flyovers, and other basic functions being divided between the state government and civic body - or in some cases, overlapping - the excuse for Mumbai's messy infrastructure has always been blamed on warring parties working against one another. They fought and the city lost out.
By voting for the BJP, the political clashes would vanish as the BJP would head the state and the municipal corporation. This in turn would ensure greater transparency and accountability which was sorely missing.
6. BMC: CRUCIAL FOR THE SENA'S SURVIVAL
Before the 2014 assembly elections, talk of the 25-year-old Sena-BJP alliance ending was long and protracted. After days of drama, both went their own ways. Though the two estranged allies formed the Maharashtra government after the results were announced, both parties have lost no opportunity to pull the other down.
While at the state level, the Sena did lose out to the BJP and was forced to become the smaller partner, the battle for Mumbai was directly connected to its own survival. Mumbai is its stronghold. And the BMC - India's richest civic body with a humungous budget of Rs 37,000 crores - is said to be its source of sustenance.
7. UDDHAV'S CONFIDENCE: SHAAKHAA
However, in 2017, the separation pangs were not as dramatic. And one reason for Uddhav's confidence was that he knew Mumbai was the Sena's bastion. While the Sena would have hoped for at least 10 more seats, its success is also based on the fact that no other party is more rooted in the city.
In every ward, the party has an office called a shaakhaa
where local residents go with their civic problems. Uddhav's cadre on the ground largely have a reputation of being responsive. It is this network of shaakhaas
that appears to have pulled in citizens to vote for the Sena. Especially the core vote bank of Marathi-speaking Mumbaikars.
8. THE AADITYA THACKERAY FACTOR
The perception is that Aaditya Thackeray is partly responsible for changing the Sena's image from a party of "goondas"
to a party of greater moderation. Over the past few years, the soft-spoken, 26-
year-old Aaditya has not allowed hot heads to flex their muscle in the infamous "Sena-style". The party's anti-North Indian/Muslim politics have also taken a deliberate backseat. In fact, it's hard to recall the last time the Sena as a party has justified violence.
Instead, Aaditya focused on causes which had Mumbai's backing. First, the environment. He publicly opposed the Devendra Fadnavis government's plans to cut trees - inside a green zone called the Aarey Colony - for a Metro project. Aaditya also objected to the opening up of salt pan lands for any sort of development. Both issues touched a chord with a section of the people.
Aaditya also pushed for making Mumbai literally a city-that-never-sleeps by backing a 24x7 nightlife. Again, Mumbaikars responded positively but the BJP government did not, clear it making itself appear out-dated and obstructionist.
9. CONGRESS: THE BIGGEST LOSER
The Congress' call for "change" has fallen on deaf ears. From being the second biggest party in 2012 with 52 seats, the Grand Old Party has been reduced to number three with just 31 seats, its worst performance in decades. Importantly, their own voters have shifted allegiance and moved to the Sena and BJP.
Mumbai Congress Chief Sanjay Nirupam in his letter offering to resign has blamed "infighting". And that is the reality. Election after election, the party leadership has not been able to get its flock together. The cadre lacks enthusiasm and the leaders seem disinterested.
10. WHAT NOW?
Despite all their animosity, the BJP and Sena need each other. They reunited after the 2014 assembly elections to form the government. They will have to now. Unless the Congress supports the Sena which surprisingly is not being dismissed in certain circles.
But even if the Sena and BJP were to bury the hatchet, it's clearly an unhappy marriage. Will they forget the allegations of corruption they have levelled at each other during the campaign as mere chunaavi jumlaas?
The Sena wants to remain a regional force like the TMC and BJD, while the BJP wants to keep growing in the state. Both are justified. But now that the elections are over, the two will have to draw a line.
Mumbai, India's premier city is in shambles.
It deserves better. Much better.(Tejas Mehta is former Bureau Chief, NDTV 24x7 and is now a political commentator.)Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.
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