Bandra (East) by-poll is turning out to be an interesting battle field. This by-poll is a litmus test for both Congress and Shiv Sena, as Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray reside in this constituency and Congress has issued ticket to heavyweight leader and Shiv Sena rebel Narayan Rane. So, both leaders reputation are at stake. However, their game can be spoiled by the hardline All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (AIMIM) candidate, who emerged at number three in the constituency in the 2014 assembly elections. This time also AIMIM is testing the waters. Beef ban is one of the biggest issues in this by-poll in this constituency. Narayan Rane is hoping to revive his devastated political career by winning the by-poll. However, his fate will depend upon the role of AIMIM in the election. Rane is fighting against Shiv Sena’s Trupti Sawant, the widow of former MLA Bala Sawant, and AIMIM’s (Raja) Rahbar Khan. In October 2014, Sena’s Bala Sawant had got 41,388 votes and had defeated BJP’s Mahesh Parkar by 15,000 votes. Prakash Bala Sawant died after a protracted battle with cancer.
Sawant was elected as MLA from Kherwadi twice earning the distinction of having the Thackeray clan as his loyal voters. He was first elected to the BMC from Kherwadi in 1997. He served two more terms in the BMC even as he won the assembly polls in 2009. He was re-elected to Vidhan Sabha in 2014. Sawant headed the BMC’s law panel for two consecutive terms. BJP has declared its support to the Sena nominee. The Hyderabad based party has two MLAs in Maharashtra and hopes to capitalise on the anger among Muslims over the BJP-Shiv Sena government’s decision to scrap reservations for the community and enforcing a ban on bull slaughter. It hopes that the general downslide of the Congress may help it gain the minority votes.
AIMIM is eying the 2017 BMC polls and also attempting to forge rainbow coalitions with Dalit groups. Trying to play safe with its candidate, the Shiv Sena appealed to all parties not to field a candidate on humanitarian grounds. NCP is not contesting the polls and its party leaders Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare have promised to help the Congress. Looking at anti BJP waves and fading popularity of Modi, there are chances that Rane may win the election. Moreover, Uddhav is not largely accepted by Mumbaikars. Thackeray juniors have miserably disappointed Marathi Manoos. There were rumours that NCP too is helping Congress but not Sena. On the other hand, BJP want Sena to lose.
Rane suffered a shock defeat at his home town Kudal in Sindhudurg district during Maharashtra Assembly polls last year, losing to his bete noire Vaibhav Naik of Shiv Sena by nearly 10,000 votes, is hoping to revive his decimated political career through the Bandra East Assembly by-poll.
Bandra (East) has been a Congress stronghold. Sunil Dutt’s vote margin had always been high in the Bandra East area for Lok Sabha election. Priya Dutt got good support from here while Janardhan Chandurkar won this Assembly segment thrice. Congress candidates won this seat even before Chandurkar. Rane has risen from the ranks of a corporator to Chief Minister and people feel he is a go getter. Their issues are about basic amenities which the Sena-BJP ruled Municipal Corporation did not provide. Parties like MIM, MNS and NCP are unlikely to cause trouble to Rane, while a section of BJP is of the view that the defeat of Shiv Sena in the by-election will help reduce its pressure on the state government.
BJP has repeatedly hurt the sentiments of minority, just days after beef was banned in Maharashtra; the government has officially scraped the five per cent reservation to Muslims in education, a move that has triggered outrage and severe criticism from opposition parties. BJP government came to power with the promise of development. Farmers commit suicide and people live a pathetic life. Sure, this election will see that the BJP in power become lean and sensible. One way, it is better that BJP is not contesting the election. Sena is a communal party and somewhere endorsing Ghar Wapsi, Beef Ban, through which the party has damaged secular fabric of this state.
If Rane wins, then he will pose a big challenge to the state government as an opposition leader. Rane will not be an ordinary MLA and Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil’s occupancy of the Leader of Opposition post in the Assembly would come under threat. Similarly, Rane may also try to undermine the authority of the new state Congress unit chief Ashok Chavan. Rane’s aggressiveness and his potential to take on the BJP and Sena in the Legislature seem to have weighed in his favour.
The AIMIM, which has its roots in the ‘Razakars’ who supported the Nizam of Hyderabad and resisted the state’s integration into India, is led by Lok Sabha MP Asaduddin Owaisi and his younger brother and Telangana MLA Akbaruddin Owaisi, who is known for his communally charged speeches. But its success has led to consternation among liberal Muslims who fear that emotional, rabble-rousing politics may deepen the communal divide and affect the mainstreaming of community members.