Why the Dadar civic ward holds the key for Shiv Sena, MNS, BJP3 min read . Updated: 20 Jan 2017, 09:59 AM IST
BJP, which looks to emerge as an aggressive player in 2017, targets to dislodge Shiv Sena and MNS as it bids to wrest control over the politically crucial Dadar municipal seat
Mumbai: Raj Thackeray’s house overlooks Dadar’s Shivaji Park, and his Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) won all six civic wards here last time. Dadar itself is the birthplace of rival Shiv Sena, and its founder Bal Thackeray belted out his fiery speeches from Shivaji Park every Dussehra for decades. Yet, it was the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) that won big from the assembly constituency housing Dadar in 2014.
Who will win Dadar this time?
The BJP and the Shiv Sena contested Maharashtra assembly elections separately in 2014 and later came together reluctantly to form the government, but the relationship has remained frosty ever since.
The two parties have started pre-poll alliance talks for the Mumbai civic polls scheduled on 21 February.
A failure would mean a high-profile triangular fight at Dadar’s prestigious ward No. 191. This would be an all-women tussle as it has been reserved for women since the 2017 civic ward delimitation. In 2012, the ward, then numbered 185 and known as the Ravindra Natya Mandir constituency, had a two-horse race between the Shiv Sena and the MNS, which the latter won hands down.
2017 has brought a new player to the field, an aggressive BJP. The party got interested in this ward after its assembly election nominee Vilas Ambekar polled more than 33,000 votes from Mahim constituency and took the lead in the Dadar ward.
However, ultimately, Shiv Sena’s Sada Sarwankar won the Dadar ward.
If the BJP and the Shiv Sena decide to go solo, three formidable women will be in the fray: former Mumbai mayor Vishakha Raut of the Shiv Sena, social activist and professor Medha Somaiya of the BJP, and MNS nominee Swapna Deshpande, wife of the sitting MNS corporator Sandip Deshpande and ex-government employee. However, none of them have declared candidature yet.
For the Shiv Sena, the significance of Mumbai’s Dadar area cannot be overstated. It was at his father Keshav Thackeray’s Dadar residence that Balasaheb Thackeray founded his organisation on 19 June 1966. Keshav Thackeray, popularly known as Prabodhankar Thackeray, named this son-of-the-soil sentiment Shiv Sena. On 30 October the same year, Balasaheb Thackeray addressed Shiv Sena’s foundational Dussehra rally at the Dadar’s iconic Shivaji Park. Since then, Thackeray addressed thousands of his followers every year on Dussehra at Shivaji Park till ill-health caught up with him in 2012 and he had to send a pre-recorded speech that was aired before his followers at Shivaji Park.
Thackeray died soon after and was cremated at Shivaji Park with full state honours on 18 November 2012.
Now, his son and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav addresses Shiv Sainiks on Dussehra. A memorial to Balasaheb Thackeray is coming up at the Mayor’s bungalow right behind the Shivaji Park. And of course, the Sena Bhavan, party’s headquarters, is right there in Dadar.
The Shiv Sena maintained its hold over Dadar till the 2012 civic elections when it lost all six civic wards here to MNS, founded by Uddhav’s estranged cousin Raj Thackeray. Particularly stinging was the defeat in ward number 185 which houses all the Shiv Sena landmarks mentioned above. Here, MNS nominee Sandip Deshpande defeated his Shiv Sena rival by around 6,500 votes. Since then, Shiv Sena has been looking forward to 2017 to rise again in Dadar. MNS too has its own connect with Dadar—Raj Thackeray lives near Shivaji Park and MNS office is in Dadar.
The women themselves and their backers are keeping the fingers crossed. Raut, who was also a Shiv Sena MLA, says she would contest if the party wanted her to. “But my candidature has not been declared yet. Alliance talks are going on with BJP. At this stage, it all looks like a media-created fight. But the Shiv Sena does have a great emotional connect with this constituency," Raut says.
Sandip Deshpande of the MNS, who currently represents the ward, says his party chief Raj Thackeray would declare the nominee, adding that his wife had “99% chance" of getting nominated. Swapna Deshpande recently left her government job to fight the election.
If the BJP gets to contest the seat, Medha Somaiya, professor of social science at Mumbai’s Ramnarain Ruia College and wife of BJP’s Mumbai north-east MP Kirit Somaiya, is likely to be its candidate.
Speaking on her behalf, Kirit Somaiya said the BJP leadership would take the final call. “A suggestion was made to Mumbai BJP chief Ashish Shelar that the BJP should field good, qualified, and young candidates in the civic polls. Medha has no inclination to contest, but if the party asks her to contest, she will do so," Kirit Somaiya said.