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‘Jalebi-fafda Sunday’ was latest, Shiv Sena has been wooing Gujaratis for 5 yrs — but in vain

With BMC polls due next year, the need to draw Gujarati voters is important for Shiv Sena as the community has so far been loyal to the party's ex-ally BJP.

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Mumbai: On Sunday, the Shiv Sena reached out to Mumbai’s Gujarati population, and also inducted nine businessmen from the community into the party during a breakfast event that had crunchy fafdas and crispy sweet jalebis on the menu.

On the same breakfast plate, there was also a savoury vada pav to indicate that Mumbai’s Marathi and Gujarati communities not just co-exist, but even go well together, and that the Shiv Sena can take both along.

The tag line for the event was, “Mumbai ma jalebi na fafda, Uddhav Thackeray aapda (There is jalebi and fafda in Mumbai, Uddhav Thackeray is ours).”

For the 54-year-old political party born out of a nativist, anti-migrant agenda, and one that has traditionally targeted wealthy Gujaratis for allegedly using Mumbai as their launchpad without respecting the local residents and their culture, the breakfast event seemed unusual. The party, after all, had once thrived on the paranoia of Gujaratis wanting to hive off Mumbai from Maharashtra. 

However, political compulsions have prompted the Shiv Sena to try and court Mumbai’s Gujaratis for a few years now, especially before elections. The vada pav-fafda diplomacy was just the latest such attempt ahead of the 2022 elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), considered to be the Shiv Sena’s citadel and the nerve centre of its power and influence. 


Also read: This is why Shiv Sena has been needling Congress and cosying up to Sharad Pawar’s NCP


Political compulsions

Though it had won the posts of mayor earlier, the Shiv Sena first wrested control of the BMC in 1985, winning 75 seats. This happened after it led a campaign harping on how Mumbai belongs to the ‘Marathi manoos’. 

Over three decades later, the percentage of Marathi voters has significantly dropped in Mumbai’s electoral demographics. 

Families living in small modest homes and chawls in the city’s Marathi heartlands of Dadar, Parel, Lalbaug and Girgaum over the years grew larger. As redevelopment policies replaced creaking chawls and decrepit low-rise buildings with plush skyscrapers and plush costly homes, the lower-middle and middle-class Marathi families moved to Mumbai’s peripheral towns such as Thane, Dombivli, Virar and so on, or even cities such as Pune and Nashik for bigger, more affordable houses and more space.

Gradually, the demographic shift compelled the Shiv Sena to soften its hardcore pro-Marathi ‘sons of the soil’ image and paint a more inclusive picture, reaching out to Mumbai’s non-Maharashtrians, especially the Gujaratis and North Indians. 

A Mumbai-based Shiv Sena MLA, who did not want to be named, said, “When the Marathi population goes down, we have to look at other communities. The efforts had started from Balasaheb’s time (Shiv Sena founder Bal Thackeray) itself. We had a Gujarati cell, but the leader heading it left and then it fizzled out. But, the past few years, we have been actively looking at voters from all communities.”

He added: “It’s not difficult for the Shiv Sena. After all, during crises, whether it is the floods or now with Covid, we have always worked for Mumbai and its people without discriminating on caste, language or religion.” 

The leader said Mumbai has about 28-30 per cent Marathi voters, another 30 per cent Gujaratis, Marwaris and Jains, followed by communities of North Indians, South Indians, Muslims and Christians. 

The need to draw Gujarati and Jain voters is more imminent now for the Shiv Sena with its former ally, BJP, now its arch rival. 

Traditionally in the saffron alliance, wards in Mumbai’s Marathi-dominated areas would be contested by the Shiv Sena, while the Gujarati and North Indian-dominated wards would go to the BJP. The city’s Gujarati community has thus far been mostly loyal to the BJP. 


Also read: Ready to fight BMC polls solo but open to tie-up if party says — new Mumbai Congress chief


Overtures to the Gujarati community 

On 1 May 2014, the Shiv Sena accused Mumbai’s Gujaratis of using the city “like a sex worker” to build their own cities of gold. In an editorial in Saamana, the party had asked if Gujaratis were ready to rally behind it and give back to the state after getting wealth and fame. 

The targeting of Gujaratis did not surprise many, but a rebuttal by Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray the following day raised eyebrows. Thackeray and his son, Aaditya Thackeray, distanced themselves from the editorial, talking about how Gujaratis have always stood by Bal Thackeray. 

The Shiv Sena started visibly reaching out to the BJP’s core voter base in September 2016, ahead of the 2017 civic elections that the Shiv Sena knew it would have to fight looking at the BJP, its warring ally in the state then, as its primary rival. 

The BJP, which had been the Sena’s junior partner in the BMC until then, was eyeing exponential growth in the city hoping to reverse the equation, just as it had at the state level in 2014. 

The Sena could not risk the BJP growing to be an equal power in the BMC as it would hurt not just the Sena’s bargaining power at the state level, but also Thackeray’s leadership credentials, as the 2017 election was the first BMC election that the Shiv Sena was contesting after Bal Thackeray’s death. 

In September 2016, the Shiv Sena put up posters in Ghatkopar, a largely Gujarati-speaking suburb, in Gujarati language to woo the community ahead of the release of the state’s housing policy. 

The party later inducted Gujarati leaders such as Hemraj Shah from Bruhad Mumbai Gujarati Samaj, Rajesh Doshi, deputy head of the BJP’s Gujarati wing from Kandivali, producer Tejas Gohil, among others. 

By constantly taking on the Narendra Modi-led government over demonetisation, the Shiv Sena has also been attempting to tap the angst in Mumbai’s business community, mostly comprising Gujaratis, against the move.

Ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Arvind Sawant, Shiv Sena candidate in South Mumbai, was seen distributing Gujarati pamphlets to reach out to the large number of Gujaratis in the affluent Malabar Hill, Colaba and Cuffe Parade areas.

Then, prior to the 2019 state assembly elections too, the Shiv Sena tried to attract Gujarati votes with Aaditya Thackeray campaigning in Gujarati in his constituency, Worli. 

Aaditya, the first from his family to contest elections, put up outdoor hoardings of himself with the words “Kem Cho Worli? (How are you Worli)” and got heavily trolled on social media by Shiv Sena’s traditional sympathisers for the same. 

A Shiv Sena functionary from South Mumbai, however, said reaching out to other communities does not distance the Sena’s core voters from the party. 

“There is a vicious agenda to brand us as having left Hindutva and turned secular when we reach out to different communities, but the truth is that every political party has leaders from different communities. Shiv Sena has honestly worked for the Marathi community right from inception. 90 per cent of the leaders, functionaries are Marathi, so there is approachability,” the leader said. 

“Our core Marathi voters still think that the Shiv Sena is the only option for them because we have worked for them right since inception,” he added. 

Efforts have not translated into votes

The Shiv Sena’s consistent efforts to woo Mumbai’s Gujaratis and Jains, however, haven’t translated into votes over the years. 

In the two elections that the Shiv Sena and BJP have contested separately since 2014 — the state assembly election of 2014 and the 2017 Mumbai civic elections — the BJP has picked up most of the Gujarati-dominated wards and constituencies. 

In the 2014 assembly election, the Shiv Sena won 14 out of the Mumbai’s 36 constituencies and the BJP 15. 

The Sena won in nearly all constituencies traditionally dominated by the Marathi-speaking population, such as Mahim, Sewri, Worli, Magathane, Bhandup and Vikhroli. But in several other places, the party lost to the BJP by a huge margin, especially in the suburbs that are more cosmopolitan in demographics. 

The defeat of senior Shiv Sena leaders such as Vinod Ghosalkar from Dahisar and Subhash Desai from Goregaon, as well as candidates such as Mangesh Satamkar and Pandurang Sakpal from Sion-Koliwada and Colaba, all constituencies with a significant Gujarati population, were a dampener for the party. 

Following the results, Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut, also executive editor of Saamana, had in his column said that Mumbai’s Gujaratis forgot the favours bestowed on them by Bal Thackeray and chose the BJP only because the prime minister and the then BJP president Amit Shah were from their own community. 

In the 2017 BMC election, the Shiv Sena fielded 14 Gujarati candidates, of which only two won. 

Political analyst Prakash Bal said, “Realistically, I don’t think Gujarati community will rally behind the Shiv Sena. The (Sena) sainiks at the ground level don’t have any love lost for the Gujaratis. Culturally itself, the Shiv Sena has been a different party.”

“The Gujaratis, even in Mumbai, identify themselves with Narendra Modi, even the youngsters. No one identifies themselves with Aaditya Thackeray, Uddhav Thackeray or even Devendra Fadnavis for that matter. The Shiv Sena wants to go into the Mumbai civic election showing how they are taking all communities along, but it won’t be successful in attracting votes,” he added.


Also read: NCP aide, Modi backer, now Mumbai’s ‘Godfather’ — the political gymnastics of Raj Thackeray


 

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3 COMMENTS

  1. Somewhere in early 60s a lot of traction and support was there for the Sena because it was the voice of Marathi, in a city growing with a lot of capital coming from out of state. The real estate and other industries were mostly owned by non-Marathi names. The Marathi population was working in the mills, or in state and central government jobs. Over the following years, the prosperity and opportunities of the the industry stated trickling down to the Marathi population as well with a proportionate participation in all walks of life. Naturally the need for that voice became less and less necessary. For some reason this change was not configured for maintaining the base in the policies.

  2. Once again, it will be in vain. In fact any non-Maharashtrian will be a fool to be taken in by the false pretences of this goonda and extortionist outfit!
    After decades of demonising, attacking and trying to terrorise, this hypocritical gang (not a mere political party, but a mob) is trying to apparently change its colours!!!!

  3. You are doing great journalism keep it up Guys and let’s come together to defeat this fascist government.

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