MUMBAI: What prevents Shiv Sena from conquering the power in the state on its own? was the question raised by senior Shiv Sena leader and former Lok Sabha speaker Manohar Joshi at the 52nd foundation day of the party earlier this week.
A look into how serious the party is on widening its voter base, might provide an answer to the question.While Joshi had raised a critical question party president Uddhav Thackeray said, in the concuding session, that the next Chief Minister of Maharashtra would be from the Shiv Sena. "Maharashtra would be brought under the saffron flag rule," he roared. But, didn't give a clear roadmap. A look at Maharashtra's voting pattern in assembly polls shows that the Shiv Sena had never fetched more than 16 per cent of votes in the assembly elections till 2014.
In 2009 election the Shiv Sena had 15.3 per cent of votes, the BJP had 13.9 percent and together they had 29.2 per cent for that fell short of just over 38 per cent of Congress-NCP combined. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls the tally reached to a whopping 48 per cent while the Congress-NCP alliance could fetch only 34 per cent. That was Modi charisma, which increased BJP's vote percentage to over 27.3 votes. The Shiv Sena had around 20.6 per cent votes back then.
In the assembly polls that year when both the parties contested separately BJP's voting percentage increased to 27.8 per cent while Shiv Sena came down to 19.3 per cent. The voting percentages of the Congress and the NCP remained almost same at around 17 and 18 per cent respectively.
BJP's seat-sharing arrangement increased their tally by over 76 seats while Shiv Sena could manage to increase its number of seats only by 18. While experts say they don't see any reason why there would be drastic change in these figures, the Shiv Sena leadership too fails to tell how the party plans to gather the requisite numbers of the voting or the seats.
Another major change that was visible in 2014 assembly polls was that the party couldn't show spectacular results except for Konkan which only has 15 seats. In Mumbai, the party's stronghold that has 36 assembly seats, the party could get only 15. The party opposes the idea of separate Vidarbha and hence has little presence in the 63 assembly seats of the region.
North Maharashtra is too dominated by the BJP leaving only Marathwada and Western Maharashtra for Shiv Sena. In Western Maharashtra, it doesn't have network of cooperatives like the Congress and the NCP, while in Marathwada the BJP has proved its mantle in several elections in past four years. In the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, a party or coalition that has 130 members generally rules the state. When Vidarbha and western Maharashtra contribute 130 out of 288 Assembly seats, Shiv Sena leaders don't explain what is their plan to get the magic number.
In its formative years, Shiv Sena thrived on the support of the proletariat class in Mumbai. It comprised almost all the castes. To add to that vote base, in 1980s Shiv Sena embraced Hindutva and by that successfully pulled a large chunk of North Indian voters which formed core voter of the Congress. Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Nirupam consciously tried to harness this vote bank. One of his ways was to organize Chat poojas. Though Nirupam later left Shiv Sena, several Shiv Sena leaders like Thane MLA Prakash Sarnaik regularly make arrangements for Chat Pooja at their respective constituencies even today, after around 20 years.
Case with South Indian or even Muslim voters in Mumbai too is not much different. At the BDD chawl area of Worli Shiv Sena conducts public meetings in Telugu and for that BJP leaders from Andhra Pradesh are specially invited. This has been happening in every election for almost three decades now. Similarly several Shiv Sena leaders have built strong bonds with the Muslim community in their area. Kurla MLA Mangesh Kudalkar who had put up a huge banner recently to greet the Muslim community on Ramazan recently says that the relation (of the Shiv Sena and the muslim community in Kurla) is not limited to the banner and posters, but is very organic with regular participation of the community members in party activities.
During BMC elections of 2017 Shiv Sena had fielded Muslim candidates and even had brought out campaign material in Urdu. It could win Shiv Sena one candidate, but, that is all."The party stand is very clear.
Locally we are savior of Marathi Manoos and on the National level we play the same role for Hindus," this is our official line said party spokesperson Harshal Pradhan. All other efforts are primarily "local" in nature, he added. He also does not see any dichotomy in this kind of thought process.Whether Shiv Sena leadership identifies the dichotomy and tries to do away with it will only decide whether the party leadership is serious about expanding its voter base.(EOM)