The outcomes of these 19 key battles will make and mar several political careers and significantly shape the political discourse in Mumbai.
Every public spectacle in India tends to have a personality driven contest, which tends to overshadow the main event itself. Multi-hero Bollywood movies have actors pitted against each other and cricket tours have star batsmen taking on star bowling opponents. Elections are no different.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) election scheduled for February 21st will witness several such keen contests, each of which is a story in itself. Key party faces (even ex-MLAs), party-hoppers contesting against erstwhile bosses, intense personal rivalries, citizen candidates, existential contests - several spiced up battles are in the offing.
Every seat is equal in the final count but some seats are more equal than others. The outcomes of these 19 key battles will make and mar several political careers and significantly shape the political discourse in Mumbai. The results will also set the direction for new vote block identification and force political parties to calibrate their strategies for the 2019 assembly elections.
Ward #1 (Assembly Segment: Dahisar, Sitting MLA: Manisha Chaudhuri of BJP)
Sitting Corporator Abhishek Ghosalkar’s wife Tejaswini has been fielded by Shiv Sena to retain its bastion. Tejaswini is the daughter-in-law of Shiv Sena strongman and ex-MLA Vinod Ghosalkar. Ghosalkar was comprehensively and surprisingly defeated by BJP’s Manisha Chaudhuri in 2014 assembly elections and he is putting all his might to restore the family honour. The field is strong with Congress Corporator Sheetal Mhatre moving to this ward and expected to pose a stiff challenge. BJP has played the North Indian card here fielding Suchi Yadav with Manisha Chaudhuri expected to pull-in the Marathi votes. Vinod Ghosalkar’s unpopularity among a section of Sena’s influential women leaders in this area like ex-Mayor Shubha Raul will make this a solid battle. A perception of Shiv Sena losing from this ward will have severe repercussions across all 6 wards of the Dahisar assembly segment and beyond.
Ward #11 (Assembly Segment: Magathane, Sitting MLA: Prakash Surve of Shiv Sena)
The contest in this ward will give a good indication of BJP’s success of its poaching program as well as of attracting the Marathi vote. BJP has fielded Prakash Darekar, brother of Praveen Darekar (former MLA) who was poached from MNS and also given a Legislative Council seat amid strong opposition from insiders. While Praveen might have lost the 2014 election, he has a solid hold in this predominatly slum dominated area. Facing off Prakash is current MLA Prakash Surve’s protégé, Riddhi Khursange. Riddhi was a NCP Corporator before moving on to greener pastures of Shiv Sena. Prakash Surve himself moved to SS ahead of 2014 elections and Surve and Darekar are out to prove a point and establish control across Magathane. The buzz from this ward will spread across a bunch of wards even beyond this assembly segment and hence is a key contest to watch out for.
Ward #29 (Assembly Segment: Kandivili, Sitting MLA: Atul Bhatkalkar of BJP)
This ward is a test-bed for BJP’s wooing of the North Indian vote. BJP has fielded Sagar Singh Thakur, son of ex-MLA Ramesh Thakur. Ramesh Thakur defected from Congress ahead of the election and this is a prestige battle for him. Facing off is Congress’ sitting corporator Ramashish Gupta and this will be a fight to the end for the North Indian vote. Shiv Sena’s Sachin Patil will look to benefit from the potential split in the North Indian vote. Shiv Sena is relying on this arithmetic across a number of wards in North and North West Mumbai and this seat will be an indicator of how things could eventually pan out on this front.
Ward #50 (Assembly Segment: Goregaon, Sitting MLA: Vidya Thakur of BJP)
Goregaon is a great reflection of changing demographics in Mumbai with this erstwhile Marathi dominated seat now having a large North Indian population. BJP’s sitting MLA and Minister Vidya Thakur had unexpectedly beaten Shiv Sena leader Subhash Desai from this seat in 2014 and ward #50 will be a proxy fight between the two. In the fray are Vidya Thakur’s son Deepak Thakur against Shiv Sena Shakha Pramukh Dinesh Rao. Congress’ Sneha Zagade, who is incidentally the daughter of a Shiv Sena worker has also moved from her erstwhile ward to contest here and might cut through some of the Marathi vote. This ward will be a test of true backing of the North Indian vote for BJP even as Shiv Sena fights to retain its Marathi vote. This battle will have a ripple effect on a number of wards not only in the Goregaon assembly constituency but also in the neighbouring Dindoshi and Jogeshwari assembly segments.
Ward #60 (Assembly Segment: Versova, Sitting MLA: Bharti Lavhekar of BJP)
This will be one of the biggest battles in the Western suburbs. Sitting Congress corporator Jyotsna Dighe, a Narayan Rane loyalist had broken the Shiv Sena hegemony here in 2012 and she is back in the fray. Challenging her is BMC Standing Committee Chairman and Shiv Sena veteran Yashodhar Phanse. While the primary battle seems to be between these two, BJP has fielded Yograj Dabhalkar, nephew of sitting MLA Bharti Lavhekar. BJP had won this seat in 2014 assembly elections after Shiv Sena candidate’s nomination papers were disqualified. A defeat for Phanse would be debilitating for the Shiv Sena set-up in Versova and Ms Lavhekar would be aiming for just that to build on her surprise victory in 2014.
Ward #69 (Assembly Segment: Andheri West, Sitting MLA: Ameet Satam of BJP)
This ward has been unique in participation of Citizen candidates in successive civic elections. While a unanimous Citizen’s candidate, Adolf Dsouza had won in 2007, a split in this unity in 2012 resulted in victory of a political party candidate. 2017 is unique as BJP has co-opted a Citizen candidate, Renu Hansraj backed by some of the Residents association even as Neha Kumar is standing as an Independent Citizen candidate. Shiv Sena has pockets of strength in this ward and its candidate Anjali Palkar is hoping to prick the Citizen candidate bubble. Result in this ward will go a long way in influencing the direct participation of resident associations in the electoral process in the future.
Ward #81 (Assembly Segment: Andheri East, Sitting MLA: Ramesh Latke of Shiv Sena)
Andheri East assembly segment has been dominated by Congress and Shiv Sena in the last 30 years and it is this stranglehold which BJP is aiming to break by importing husband-wife duo of Murji Patel & Kesharben Murji Patel for 2 neighbouring wards # 76 & 81. While there has invariably been an internal dissent against tickets to the defectors in place of party workers, it has made the battle in this ward extremely exciting. The trend in this ward in the run-up to the election will have a solid rub-off effect across the assembly segment and in a couple of wards in the neighbouring assembly segments. It will also be a reflection of acceptance of turncoats in BJP. BJP’s Sunil Yadav had narrowly lost to Shiv Sena’s Ramesh Latke in 2014 election and BJP is looking to set a solid platform to reverse the result in 2019.
Ward #84 (Assembly Segment: Vile Parle, Sitting MLA: Parag Alavani of BJP)
This is the heart of the Marathi middle-class suburban population and a battle to show which party, BJP or Shiv Sena has a bigger place in the Marathi heart. This ward has been a Shiv Sena stronghold with the party holding this ward for last 25 years starting from Sadashiv Palande in 1992. However, sitting BJP MLA Parag Alavani had taken a good lead from here in the 2014 assembly election and that makes the contest very interesting. Shiv Sena has opted for Veena Bhagwat, a well-known educationist who fought on MNS ticket in 2012 and was narrowly beaten by Shiv Sena’s Shubhada Patkar. BJP has fielded party worker Abhijit Samant who is hoping to ride on Devendra Fadnavis’ popularity (a large Marathi Brahmin population in this ward) and an active RSS network. MNS has fielded Sandeep Dalvi, son of former Shiv Sena MLA Sitaram Dalvi and he has some appeal among the youth. Voting pattern in this ward will likely be mirrored in a number of Marathi-dominated constituencies in western suburbs.
Ward #101 (Assembly Segment: Bandra West, Sitting MLA: Ashish Shelar of BJP)
This Congress stronghold ward is a true test of BJP Mumbai Chief, Ashish Shelar’s electoral strategising. Asif Zakaria of Congress is the favorite but BJP is trying a unique experiment to dislodge the Congress from here: a mix of realpolitik, citizen participation and keeping minorities onside by nominating Derek Talker, a local activist. Congress has had a strong pull on the Christian vote in Mumbai and BJP is trying hard to break this dominance, starting from this ward. Moreover, Bandra assembly seat demographics demand BJP keeps Christians onside to strengthen its grip in the seat. Perception of Christians voting for BJP in this ward can have a positive effect in Christian dominated pockets like Bandra, Mahim, Kalina, Amboli, Malad among others and holds the potential to drive a techtonic shift in current and future voting patterns.
Ward #167 (Assembly Segment: Kurla, Sitting MLA: Mangesh Kudalkar of Shiv Sena)
This will be the ultimate battle for the Muslim vote. Corporator Dilshad Azmi moved over from SP and is now contesting on a Congress ticket here. Her husband is also a contestant on Congress ticket from a neighbouring ward. SP is making a determined bid to hold on to its Muslim electorate fielding Shaikh Rukhsana. AIMIM is also making waves here through Rukhiya Shaikh. This 3-cornered contest for the Muslim vote will surely lead to a longer-term realignment of the Muslim vote in the city. While a setback here would incapacitate SP in a very big way, a reverse for Congress would also raise doubts on the Mumbai North Central Lok Sabha seat prospects. In 2004 and 2009, Chandivali and Kurla segments gave huge leads to the Dutts and Congress has limited ability to handle setbacks here.
Ward #112 (Assembly Segment: Bhandup, Sitting MLA: Ashok Patil of Shiv Sena)
MNS and Shiv Sena had fought pitched battles in this assembly segment in the 2012 BMC elections and MNS had got good success then. Much has changed as MNS has been left vulnerable by a spate of outflows even as BJP has increased in strength. BJP leader Manoj Kotak had given sitting MLA Ashok Patil a tough fight in 2014 assembly elections and with 2019 on mind BJP is making a determined bid to dent the Shiv Sena stronghold. MP Kirit Somaiya’s trusted aide, Deepak Dalvi’s wife Sakshi is fighting from this seat and this is a battle for honour with Shiv Sena’s Jayshri Patil. MNS’ Supriya Dhurat has turned into a side-show in this BJP-SS battle for bigger presence in the eastern suburbs.
Ward #118 (Assembly Segment: Vikhroli, Sitting MLA: Sunil Raut of Shiv Sena)
This area has a large population of Dalits. Shiv Sena and MNS have been the dominant forces here and in fact BJP had given this seat to its ally RPI-A in the 2014 assembly election due to lack of a credible candidate. Much has changed since then with BJP and Shiv Sena both growing at the expense of MNS. BJP has poached MNS’ ex-Corporator and ex-MLA from Vikhroli, Mangesh Sangale who has been fielded from this seat. This is strong signaling to the entire Dalit belt in Vikhroli and Ghatkopar where BJP is trying to make a mark. BJP has made an aggressive outreach to Dalits all over the country and this ward is just a microcosm of that. A Sangale victory here will embolden BJP to challenge Shiv Sena’s dominance in the eastern suburbs of Bhandup/Vikhroli. A fierce fight from Shiv Sena is only to be expected.
Ward #131 (Assembly Segment: Ghatkopar East, Sitting MLA: Prakash Mehta of BJP)
This ward will provide a peek into Shiv Sena’s success or failure in attracting Gujarati votes. After the 2014 experience, Shiv Sena has put in some effort to attract the Gujarati voters and have given a ticket to BJP turncoat, Mangal Bhanushali from this ward. There was talk of sitting BJP MLA Prakash Mehta’s son, Harsh Mehta being given the ticket from this ward but realizing the sensitivity of this ward and its potential to impact the surrounding wards, BJP has fielded a long-time party worker and two-time corporator Bhalchandra Shirsat, who is a Marathi. Almost a third of voters in this ward are Gujaratis and Shiv Sena is sparing no effort to create the Marathi + Gujarati coalition here even as BJP defends its turf. An equally exciting battle is being also fought in the neighbouring ward #132 with Congress’ Pravin Chheda (formerly of BJP) facing off builder Parag Shah. These twin battles will show whether BJP has emerged unscathed or not from the effect of demonetization on small businesses.
Ward #144 (Assembly Segment: Anushakti Nagar, Sitting MLA: Tukaram Kate of Shiv Sena)
An intra Shiv Sena rivalry has resulted in a strong fight on what otherwise would have been a comfortable Shiv Sena victory. Shiv Sena MP Rahul Shewale’s wife Kamini was preferred over wife of Shiv Sena Corporator Bablu Panchal. Bablu and his wife Anita promptly shifted allegiance to BJP and are contesting from neighbouring wards #141 and #144 respectively. The Panchals seem to have tacit support of sitting Shiv Sena MLA Tukaram Kate. Kate still nurses a grouse with Shewale as Shewale had worked against Kate in the 2009 Assembly elections and will likely use the current opportunity as payback time. These intra SS feuds have provided a unique entry point to the BJP in a constituency erstwhile dominated by NCP and Shiv Sena. Loss in this ward for his wife will also impact Shewale’s credentials for the 2019 Lok Sabha run.
Ward #176 (Assembly Segment: Sion Koliwada, Sitting MLA: Tamil Selvan of BJP)
Congress was the #1 choice for the South Indian community in Mumbai until Narendra Modi broke that stranglehold in 2014 Lok Sabha elections. BJP built on that success by managing a successful debut for Capt Tamil Selvan in 2014 assembly elections from Sion constituency. Under Devendra Fadnavis, BJP has made a concerted effort to build relationship with the South Indian community and the true measure of the success of this outreach will be seen in this ward where BJP’s Murgan is up against 4-time Congress corporator Ravi Raja. Ravi Raja got this ticket despite opposition from ex-MP Eknath Gaikwad and after his unsuccessful run in 2012, he is raring to prove a point. A successful experiment here can give BJP a template to make a run on South Indian pockets across Sion, Chembur, Matunga among others.
Ward #191 (Assembly Segment: Mahim, Sitting MLA: Sada Sarvankar of Shiv Sena)
The contest in this ward will determine whether MNS continues to exist as a political party at all or just wither away. Knowing this fully well, Shiv Sena has played a strong hand fielding former MLA and ex-Mayor Vishakha Raut from this ward. MNS has fielded sitting Corporator and Raj Thackeray right hand man Sandeep Deshpande’s wife Swapna Deshpande. This contest between the 2 Senas will go down to the wire. Incidentally, BJP had a lead from this ward in 2014 assembly elections and there was talk of fielding Medha Oak Somaiya, wife of MP Kirit Somaiya from this ward. However, in her absence BJP is just making up the numbers here. MNS had won all 7 wards in Mahim assembly segment in 2012 and has the highest chance of winning seats only in this assembly segment. Battle for this ward will influence a number of surrounding wards in the Mahim and Wadala assembly segment and can well be termed as battle royale of 2017.
Ward #203 (Assembly Segment: Sewree, Sitting MLA: Ajay Choudhari of Shiv Sena)
Sewree represents the core Shiv Sena voting demographic – working class Maharashtrians and barring an aberration from 2009-14 when MNS’ Bala Nandgaonkar won the assembly seat, Shiv Sena has been a dominant force here. BJP’s ground presence is negligible but defection of former Shiv Sena Corporator Nana Ambole has given BJP a ray of hope. Ajay Choudhari and Nana Ambole’s rivalry led to Ambole moving to BJP and BJP has given a ticket to his wife Tejaswini. It’s a battle for honour and Ambole’s hold here is bound to give Shiv Sena a solid run for its money. MNS presence is good but the noise of Ambole-Choudhari rivalry has diminished its hopes from this seat. This ward is BJP’s gateway to a potential assembly run in 2019 and Ambole himself being a contender, is going to give his all to wrest the seat for his wife. Shiv Sena can ill afford to let BJP gain an entry here as this will give BJP a big boost in Sewree, Byculla and Worli segments, all Shiv Sena areas. Moreover, this can make BJP a contender for the Mumbai South Lok Sabha seat in 2019. This battle is not for the faint hearted.
Ward #223 (Assembly Segment: Mumbadevi, Sitting MLA: Amin Patel of Congress)
Ward #223 will give the direction of the Muslim vote in Mumbai and will be a good barometer to assess AIMIM growth in Mumbai. AIMIM has fielded ex-Congress Corporator Waqarunnisa Ansari from this ward. Ansari crossed over to AIMIM after Congress ticket was given to Dnyanraj Nikam’s daughter Nikita. A victory here will embolden AIMIM to make a strong run for Mumbadevi assembly seat in 2019 assembly elections. AIMIM already holds the neighbouring Byculla assembly seat. Sitting Congress MLA Amin Patel needs to work overtime to ensure victory for Nikita and show that Muslims in Mumbai still support Congress.
Ward #227 (Assembly Segment: Colaba, Sitting MLA: Raj Purohit of BJP)
The fight for Mumbai continues right till the last ward, which has thrown up an interesting field. Colaba has been such a big Congress bastion that it was the only seat in Mumbai not won by BJP-SS in 1995 assembly elections. 2014 was the first time after 1978 when a non-Congress member won the seat. BJP has tried to cover its weakness in this ward by importing a citizen candidate, Makarand Narwekar who had won as an Independent in 2012. He has also come as part of a package deal where his sister-in-law Harshita Narwekar is contesting from the neighbouring ward on a BJP ticket. Interestingly, Harshita’s father and husband are NCP leaders. The victory of Narwekars will help BJP consolidate gains made in 2014 assembly elections and act as a bulwark for a potential 2019 LS run from Mumbai South seat by Mangal Prabhat Lodha.