Mumbai could have voted for ‘martyr’ Hemant Karkare

Deemed safe seats for SS-BJP combine, they had to fight hard in all 6 seats in the city. The animosity between the allies, Raj Thackeray factor and the slur on Hemant Karkare have made the seats risky

PTI Photo
PTI Photo

Sujata Anandan

"Even if a coalition government comes to power, they should be devoted to progress and development," said noted industrialist Anand Mahindra soon after voting in Mumbai on April 29.

He was perhaps among the very few South Mumbai elite who voted, for usually the super-rich of the city prefer to while away the long or extended voting weekends at their holiday homes rather than stand in long queues in the hot summer to have their fingers inked.

As usual, somnolent Mumbai recorded a low voter turnout where nearly half the population did not vote. The brisker voting was in the poorer areas of the city but Mahindra's rare act for an elite and his subsequent statement are dead giveaways of the fact that this election is not an open-and-shut case with the six constituencies of the megapolis.

When the election process began in early March, the city seemed to be already bagged by the Shiv Sena-BJP combine. But then a few ground realities got in the way of a clean sweep of Mumbai - there was much acrimony between Shiv Sena and BJP workers whose votes did not really transfer to each other, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress parties got their act together and candidate choices by both alliances began to influence the voters.

While the two saffron allies have mostly repeated their sitting MPs - they had swept all six seats in 2014 - the BJP, in its eagerness to get the Shiv Sena on board, needlessly messed up its bastion of Mumbai North East on the Shiv Sena's insistence that they drop their sitting MP Kirit Somaiya as a price for the alliance with the party.

Somaiya had hugely targeted Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray during the municipal elections of 2017, even referring to him as a mafia don and now Uddhav wanted his pound of flesh. Too much dilly-dallying over a candidature for the seat created a lot of resentment among BJP workers who believe Somaiya had taken on Uddhav at the behest of his own party leaders who were now not standing by him.

The Congress, on the other hand successfully persuaded both Milind Deora and Priya Dutt to contest after their initial reluctance and changed guard mid-way to appoint Deora as the Mumbai Congress president. That move seemed a very inspired one when noted industrialist Mukesh Ambani, a family friend of the Deoras and a big influencer among the elite, midway through the campaign openly endorsed the Congress candidate, along with Uday Kotak, as the best choice for South Mumbai. That threw many other entrepreneurs, largely supporters of the BJP into a tizzy and Mahindra's comment on polling day was clearly an indicator of which way the wind might be blowing.

While the Congress and NCP largely stuck with old faces, the surprise was film star Urmila Matondkar who was fielded from Mumbai North against the BJP's Gopal Shetty in a seat considered the BJP’s bastion. Matondkar campaigned tirelessly and turned the fight round to one between a local Marathi daughter of Mumbai and an outsider - Shetty, the formet oresident of the city BJP, suddenly looked like a novice and the fight was no longer one sided.

As is the case now with all the other five constituencies of Mumbai where each one of the Sena-BJP candidates is up against a tough fighter from the Congress and NCP. The saffron allies are contesting three seats each while the NCP is contesting one as against the Congress's five.

In a cosmopolitan city like Mumbai where there are large Dalits, Muslim and north Indian population, forecasting results is not easy. Maharashtrians are under forty per cent of the population and they are divided between Raj Thackeray of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena who is not contesting the polls but diverting his votes to the Congress-NCP and the Shiv Sena-BJP.

But the most major issue that could work against the BJP in Mumbai lies at least a 1000 kms away in Bhopal where the party has given a ticket to terror accused Pragya Thakur. Her needless targeting of martyred police officer Hemant Karkare who died defending the city on 26/11 riled the middle class voters of Mumbai no end who mobilised the people to vote against hate and terrorism.

The BJP has thus needlessly risked six seats for one bastion which they have not lost in 30 years. Mumbai, on the other hand has flip-flopped between different parties and usually voted out rather than voted in the people it has issues with, This time the overwhelming issue, days before voting, was Hemant Karkare.

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