Mumbai: For the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Mumbai, the path to victory lies through its slums.
The party, which leads a coalition government with the Shiv Sena in Maharashtra, is conducting a publicity blitz to entice the city’s 6 million slum dwellers, to compensate for a potential loss of Marathi votes if the Sena executes its threat to contest elections on its own.
More than a fortnight after the Shiv Sena declared its intentions, the Mumbai BJP on 11 February launched “Garib Rath Yatra", a six-day campaign to strengthen its base among the metro’s large constituency of slum dwellers and migrant labourers. Under the campaign, the party will reach out to these residents in all 227 civic wards of Mumbai and explain to them the schemes launched by BJP’s central and state governments for slum dwellers and the lower income strata of urban voters, said Vinayak Kamat, Mumbai BJP’s vice-president and the coordinator of this campaign.
Mumbai BJP chief and legislator Ashish Shelar will lead the campaign. The BJP will launch six “Garib Raths"—vehicles equipped with audio-visual publicity material and information booklets that would explain its housing programmes for the poor.
On 23 January, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray declared that his party would contest all future elections on its own, signalling an exit from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Sena is currently part of NDA at the centre and in the state. In the February 2017 elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) which the two parties fought each other after severing a nearly 25-year alliance, the Sena won 84 seats and the BJP 82.
The Shiv Sena polled 28.29% of the total votes, a jump of almost 11% from its 2012 vote share of 17.34%, but the BJP’s vote share saw a quantum leap from merely 6.78% in 2012 to 27.28% in 2017. In the BMC, BJP has not joined the Sena-led civic government. Even before the civic elections, the BJP’s strong show in the October 2014 assembly elections, in which it won 15 of the total 36 seats in Mumbai city against Sena’s 14, convinced the BJP that it could take on the Sena in the latter’s bastion.
“What was significant about both these elections, especially the BMC election, was that we got votes from all sections of the society including the Marathi community which has mostly been loyal to Shiv Sena. Yet, Shiv Sena got the larger chunk of Marathi votes which helped it beat the BJP by a narrow margin. The message for us in the voting pattern was that if we strengthen our connect with Mumbai voters and cement it with performance on development front, we could better Shiv Sena," said a Mumbai BJP legislator and key member of this campaign, requesting anonymity.
Out of the city’s 12-million plus residents, about half live in the slums, as per the 2011 Census. An overwhelming majority of these residents are migrants from other states, as well as the hinterlands of Maharashtra. Before the BJP’s advent in Mumbai, much of these votes would be claimed by the Congress, but the BJP’s rise in Hindi-speaking states on the issue of Hindutva in the 1990s consolidated these voters in Mumbai behind the BJP.
Under “Garib Rath Yatra", the BJP will focus on two specific schemes—housing for all by 2022 launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the affordable housing component being implemented by the Devendra Fadnavis government in Mumbai for those slums that came up before 2011. In December 2017, the Fadnavis government extended the cut-off year from 2000 to 2011 for Mumbai slum dwellers to claim low-cost houses under the Prime Minister’s affordable housing scheme. This is likely to benefit 1.8 million people, who the BJP would be targeting under the “Garib Rath" campaign that would conclude on 16 February.