Andheri by-poll: Uddhav-led Shiv Sena tastes first electoral victory after split
With its candidate Rutuja Latke bagging 66,000 out of the total 86,000 votes, it’s not just the result but the sheer numbers that have come as a shot in the arm for Uddhav Thackeray’s party
Rutuja Latke, the candidate of the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray), on Sunday won the bypoll to Andheri (East) Assembly seat in Mumbai by bagging more than 66,000 votes.
It is a sweeping victory for the Shiv Sena (UBT) at the first grassroots test brought about by the by-election to the Andheri (East) Assembly constituency by the death of its former MLA Ramesh Latke.
Rutuja, the widow of late Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke, got 66,530 votes out of the total 86,570 votes. The next big winner was NOTA at 12,000-odd votes.
Only 31 percent people had voted on November 3 but for Mumbai this was normal—the city has never voted beyond 35-40 percent at any election. But it was in the actual numbers that the real victory lay.
This has happened before in Maharashtra. In Latur, Dheeraj Deshmukh, son of former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, found in 2019 that his nearest rival had been NOTA, although the Shiv Sena‐BJP alliance candidate had led a vigorous campaign against him.
This time around, Latke had no mainstream political parties putting up candidates against her as the Congress and NCP supported her candidature and the Eknath Shinde faction of Shiv Sena and BJP opted out of the polls, though a dozen Independents remained in the fray.
Days before polling the Shiv Sena (UBT) alleged that their rival parties were paying people money to vote NOTA, hence the good showing by NOTA may have had something to do with that conspiracy.
However, the fact that Rutuja swept all but 18,000 of the 85,000 votes cast and rather more than her husband had secured in the 2019 Assembly elections, shows that the Shiv Sena (UBT) has been able to mobilise the grassroots and might be a concern for the Eknath Shinde faction in the future.
The result has come as a relief to Uddhav Thackeray who battled against the loss of party name and symbol. “But we were able to light our torch (the mashaal is their new party symbol now) and hoist our standard at the polls,” he said.
Predictably, the dhol-tasha (huge traditional Maharashtrian drums) were out in full swing and hundreds of saffron party flags fluttering all the way from Andheri to his home Matoshree in Bandra as Shiv Sainiks celebrated among resounding chants Jai Bhavani, Jai Shivaji.
But there were the usual instances of sour grapes. Ashish Shelar, the BJP Mumbai president who was made to face some embarrassment at the start of the election process by his own party, in a tweet said he thought nothing of the result as Latke could have got more votes given that the Congress and NCP had supported her candidature.
“If the BJP had contested, she would have even less than she did this time,” he tweeted.
That might have been possible but it must be presumed that the NOTA votes were the BJP votes. Shelar had put up the candidature of former corporator Murji Patel but deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis had knocked it down as unsuitable. The fact that Patel was a Gujarati pitted against a Marathi manoos, that too the widow of the deceased MLA from that seat, stacked the odds against the BJP. Besides the ire against Gujaratis in Mumbai and the Shinde faction for splitting the party and forming a government in alliance with the BJP.
Realising that the party stood little chance, the BJP withdrew its candidature at the last-minute paving the way for a clear victory by the Shiv Sena (UBT).
Not just the result but the sheer numbers have now come as a boost to the Uddhav Thackeray faction even as the party is making waves across Maharashtra with its Mahaprabodhan Yatra on the lines of the Bharat Jodo Yatra.
Uddhav and his son Aaditya Thackeray are slated to join Rahul Gandhi who enters Maharashtra on Monday, along with Sharad Pawar and his daughter Supriya Sule. The MVA unity seems intact and that is another cause for concern to the ‘ED’ government in the state.