I must say I am nervous about writing this article. Mumbai votes today and the results are out on Feb 23 itself. If I get this wrong, there isn’t sufficient “cushion” for me to hedge my bets and pretend like I never said this.
But the temptation of getting it right trumps the fear of getting it wrong.
I am no psephologist. For me, political prediction is a matter of simple thumb rules. And if you apply these rules to the BMC polls, it comes out that the BJP should canter to an easy win. It has everything going for it. Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena has done everything to make the electorate despise them. They are going to get punished by voters.
Here are my reasons.
(1) Mumbai is as urban as it gets. As of now, the BJP has massive leads all over urban India. Post demonetization, the BJP’s lead has only grown and elections in urban enclaves such as Chandigarh have shown unprecedented, wavelike conditions for BJP.
(2) The Shiv Sena faces multiple term anti-incumbency. They have ruled the BMC since time immemorial. It would really be surprising if they are able to get incremental votes in these elections.
(3) Now, we come to the first reason why Shiv Sena may be punished by the voters. The voter is generally very severe on parties that play on BOTH sides of the fence, i.e., enjoying the red beacon fruits of power while continuing to sabotage the government. Parties like this come to be seen purely as negative baggage. I wonder if anyone can name a legitimate grievance that the Shiv Sena could have, beyond its obvious jealousy.
(4) The second reason why Shiv Sena will be punished by voters is their threats to pull down the Fadnavis government. The voter realizes that an emboldened Sena could result in heightened instability and mid-term polls. The voter doesn’t want instability and feels no urgency to bring down the fairly likeable Chief Minister.
Let me give you an example. Barely a month after the 2014 wave, the BJP actually lost 3 Assembly bypolls to the Congress in Uttarakhand. The voter is too smart. Had those bypolls gone in favor of BJP, they would have certainly brought down the ruling Congress government. Even at the height of the Modi wave, the voter chose stability. Just an example of how much the voter despises mid-term polls. In fact, the only stable and obvious trend in Indian politics since 2007 is the urge to have single party majorities which ensure 5 year governments.
And if Shiv Sena is seen as trying to force mid term polls in Maharashtra, the voter will punish them for it.
(5) Today’s polls involve the BMC and a handful of other cities. We saw the results of the local body polls in most of the state during December and January, billed as the “mini-Assembly polls”. The BJP has done handsomely, catapulting itself from a meager fourth position to a comfortable perch at the top of the ladder. The big story of the local polls has been the collapse of the Shiv Sena across the state to fourth position. This story should repeat in Mumbai. The Sena, of course, won’t come fourth in Mumbai, but if the rest of Maharashtra is completely rejecting the Shiv Sena, why would Mumbai go out on a limb and be different?
(6) Coming to the demography of Mumbai, the North Indians who have traditionally voted more with the Congress now have no real incentive to do so. The Congress is nowhere in the race and Modi is immensely popular. At the same time, the North Indian voters have every reason to come out and stop the Shiv Sena. It would be surprising if these votes don’t shift wholesale to BJP.
(7) Then, there are the core Marathi Manoos voters of the Shiv Sena. Other than emotional attachment, the Sena doesn’t really have anything to offer them. There is no evidence that Marathis have any kind of antipathy towards BJP. The RSS itself is a product of Maharashtra. The Marathis elected BJP to No. 1 position throughout the state barely a month ago. The BJP has also been actively massaging their ego with the Prime Minister coming to Mumbai to lay the foundation for a grand memorial to Chhatrapati Shivaji.
This makes the arithmetic quite simple. The non-Marathi voters actively despise the Shiv Sena and want to keep it out of power. The Marathi voters might prefer Shiv Sena but have no real objection to BJP.
(8) Finally, the youth vote. It’s hard to see the youth going for Shiv Sena’s “hafta wasooli” politics and troubled relationship with Valentine’s Day (which, incidentally, was only 7 days ago). They are far more likely to go with the urbane, suave Devendra Fadnavis. He gave them free wifi across the city! Are the youth really going to get excited about the agenda of beating up “bhaiyyas” and South Indians and Jains and Gujaratis?
However, there is one way… only one way in which the Shiv Sena could win. If the MNS melts down and its voters move en bloc to the Sena, they would win. If you can think of anything else, let me know.