The Maharashtra unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has been riding the high-morale wave after the landslide victory in 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. That victory, as BJP leaders put it, helped establish the party as the first choice of voters.
The recent Nagar Panchayat and Nagar Palika elections results were further testimony to the fact, the party said. After it emerged as the single largest party in the recent local body elections, disgruntled leaders from all the other parties started joining the BJP.
In an unprecedented incident, BJP allowed in hundreds of leaders from other parties. Most of them were alleged to have ‘criminal’ backgrounds and their capacity to win elections was the sole criteria considered when it came to accommodating them in the party and also get them tickets for various civic elections.
So much so that the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat has to now vote for a controversial candidate who is contesting for the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) elections on BJP ticket from the ward where Bhagwat votes.
Crime pays, clearly
The BJP, in a bid to win Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) has fielded many ‘outsider’ candidates with ‘criminal’ records. All of them have shifted loyalties from their respective parties to BJP just because they were denied candidature in their own parties.
In the process, BJP has managed to increase its winning probability, but at the cost of losing a major chunk of voters.
The 'free incoming' of criminal candidates has not gone down well with the BJP cadre. Though 'capacity of win elections' was the sole criteria to bring in these leaders, BJP is likely to face public discontent as many might skip voting.
The other odds
On the other hand, a strong cadre base is the biggest advantage for the Shiv Sena. The party cadre goes door-to-door and gets people caste their votes. This is one of the reasons why the Shiv Sena managed to win maximum seats in the MCGM elections.
The Shiv Sena Shakhas (branches) across Mumbai have been the powerhouses for the party to connect with the common man. The Shakhas are important meeting places for party office-bearers and people from respective zones.
It has been age old practice in Shiv Sena to start canvassing for elections one year in advance. This is the time when Shiv Sainiks – men, women and youth – start meeting people in their respective wards and create a base. While doing so, they rope in several voters who are then nurtured till elections.
“Shiv Sena was never a purely political party. It has always been more inclined towards social work rather than politics. Party Founder Balasaheb Thackeray always used to say that Shiv Sena will follow the motto of 80% social work and 20% politics. By doing this, the party has created a strong cadre base and garnered tremendous mass support in Mumbai,” said veteran political analyst and journalist Ganesh Torsekar.
Shiv Sena Shakhas are hub of all the social activities. Common people in the area prefer them, even over the local police stations, when it comes to resolving disputes.
People come to the Shakhas with all their domestic as well as professional problems. This is the biggest advantage for Shiv Sena in Mumbai, and this is exactly where BJP lags way behind.
Not so easy anymore
The 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections were easy for BJP since there was a Modi wave all over the country. The party sailed through on that wave and captured power at the Centre and the state.
But a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since. Friends have turned foes and alliances have been broken. This has only added to the worries and miseries of the BJP, apart from widespread unrest among dedicated party workers who hoped to get tickets in civic elections.
To overcome these hurdles, BJP has fallen back on RSS. The army of Swayamsevaks in Maharashtra will play a crucial role in bringing out voters and making them cast votes in their favour.
Cadre-base and mass support matters a lot when it comes to civic elections. The large-scale discontent among party cadre will prove dear for BJP. Since almost every outsider who joined the party has gotten a ticket.
“Though is it done to ensure party victory, the decision has left a major chunk of dedicated party workers unhappy. Many workers who have spent more than two decades slogging for the party have been sidelined,” said a senior BJP office bearer who did not wish to be named.
As it is the usual practice in the BJP, the leadership is looking at the RSS cadre to help them in the civic elections. It is the penetration of the RSS in the society and Swayamsevak network which the BJP will be hoping to use to ensure maximum voting.
“The strength of the RSS cadre was experienced during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections when NCP president Sharad Pawar made a derogatory remark about the RSS at Dombivli near Thane. The Swayamseva network in that part ensured that each and every BJP voter came out and voted to defeat the NCP candidate there. This time too, we will need the help from RSS,” the BJP leader said.
As a part of the election strategy, BJP has deployed Swayamsevaks to identify potential voters in Hindi, Gujarati and South India-dominated constituencies and ensure that they come and vote.
The Swayamsevaks will also help BJP cadre penetrate the Marathi-dominated areas which are considered to be Shiv Sena and MNS bastions.
BJP has established a war room to monitor the MCGM campaign where 200 youths are working round the clock keeping an eye on campaign. The team of tech-savvy youths has been deployed to handle social media to reply to opponents as well.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen