BMC civic polls 2017: Mumbai registers record turnout in Sena-BJP duel
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Mumbai: Citizens of Mumbai turned out in record numbers on Tuesday to elect representatives to India’s richest civic body, a pleasant change for a city known for voter apathy. Preliminary figures released by the Maharashtra state election commissioner J.S. Saharia, showed a 55% turnout in the election to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), nearly eight percentage points more than 44.75% seen in the last civic election in 2012. According to an official spokesperson, the final figure could be higher.
In previous elections marked by low turnouts, the chief gainer has been the Shiv Sena, which is able to galvanize its committed Marathi-speaking voter. This time, it is facing stiff challenge from the Bharatiya Janata Party. “The higher percentage has left us enthused and we are confident that we have put in a very good performance,” BJP Mumbai chief Ashish Shelar said.
An India Today-Axis exit poll predicted Shiv Sena will win 86-92 seats in the 227-member BMC with the BJP closely following with 82-88 and the Congress a distant third with 30-34 seats. The same exit poll gave a clear majority to the BJP in Pune and Nagpur, and to Shiv Sena in Thane city.
In the 2012 BMC poll which the Shiv Sena-BJP fought in an alliance, the Sena won 75 out of 135 seats it contested and the BJP 32 out of 63. But in the October 2014 assembly polls, the BJP won 15 seats in Mumbai out of 36 assembly constituencies and Sena 14.
The 2012 BMC election recorded a turnout of 44.75%, which was nearly three percentage points more than in 2007. In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, Mumbai had recorded nearly 54% turnout which was again a new high since the 1991 general elections for the city. The polling percentage in the city again dropped to 51% in the October 2014 assembly polls.
The high turnout also reflects the efforts that the State Election Commission and Mumbai First think-tank carried out to reach out to voters and enlist private companies in a campaign named “Vote4Mumbai”. Shishir Joshi, CEO of Mumbai First, said “Mumbai First is grateful to the citizens of Mumbai for an overwhelming response to its Vote4Mumbai campaign which saw corporate citizens of more than 100 companies participating.”
Pimpri Chinchwad reported the highest turnout at 67% among municipal corporations, while Ulhasnagar registered the lowest turnout of 45%. While the final figures from 11 districts involved in zilla parishad polls on Tuesday were not immediately available, preliminary estimates suggested an average turnout of 53%.
The outcome of BMC polls holds much significance for the chief contestants BJP and Shiv Sena, as well as secondary players Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) who were crowded out by the BJP-Shiv Sena duel.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis was pretty much the lone ranger from the BJP fighting back a highly personalized campaign from the Shiv Sena and NCP. Though Mumbai BJP president Ashish Shelar and BJP North East Mumbai MP Kirit Somaiya supported Fadnavis all along, the campaign became a face-off between the chief minister and Shiv Sena.
“It would not be an exaggeration to say that Fadnavis’s future as chief minister depends a lot on the BMC election outcome. He made this battle his own as he was the only star campaigner we had against Shiv Sena and (its chief) Uddhav Thackeray,” said a state BJP leader requesting anonymity.
While Fadnavis, in a series of interviews to television channels on 20 February, sounded conciliatory and maintained that his personal relations with Uddhav Thackeray would always remain cordial, Shiv Sena leaders read this as the BJP conceding defeat. Fadnavis, however, reiterated that the BJP would win BMC on its own and if it fell short of a majority, would have a post-poll alliance with Shiv Sena “only on the agenda of transparency and accountability”.
A Shiv Sena win in the BMC—114 is the magic figure in the 227-member BMC—would energize the party’s cadres after what they perceive as a period of humiliation since the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and assembly elections the same year. Both Shiv Sena and BJP functionaries, who did not wish to be named, said if the Sena won more than 100 seats and the BJP was some 20 seats behind, the former may withdraw support to the Fadnavis government.
“We assume (NCP leader) Sharad Pawar won’t support the BJP government and that would lead to the Fadnavis government falling,” said a Shiv Sea leader. He, however, added that the final decision would be taken by Uddhav Thackeray and conceded that the party was not ready for mid-term polls. “It also depends on how we and BJP have done in other cities and districts,” he said.
According to the figures released by the state election commissioner Saharia, the average preliminary polling turnout in all 10 municipal corporations including Mumbai was 56.30%; while, the average preliminary turnout in 11 zilla parishad and 118 panchayat samiti bodies was 69.43%. Among zilla parishads, Raigad district reported the highest turnout of 71%.
The results of the civic and zilla parishad polls will be declared on 23 February.