BMC Election: How Shiv Sena wooed Muslims and won the civic election

The party, known for its saffron ideology, seems to be moving towards a secular image; in the past few months, it has strategically portrayed a balanced view of the community

Mohammad Halim Khan (left, wearing jacket) with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray
Mohammad Halim Khan (left, wearing jacket) with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray

The results of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections on Thursday threw up quite a few surprises. These results could also spell a new beginning for the party until now considered the favourite of Marathi-speaking people and Hindus — Shiv Sena. The party, known for its saffron ideology, has seen unprecedented victory in areas dominated by the Muslim population.

In a first, the Sena gave tickets to five Muslim candidates, out of whom two — Khan and Mohammad Halim Khan —won in Jogeshwari East and Bandra East respectively. The party also got something else to cheer for, as it won five seats in Govandi and Chembur, which have a considerable Muslim population. But the Congress, which always enjoyed the backing of minority communities, has suffered the worst, as their candidates lost even in Muslim-dominated areas.

Candidates, not party matter
The reason that Muslim votes went to the Sena is due to the image of the candidates, not the party, feel analysts. Experts feel that in municipal elections, citizens focus on the candidates instead of parties. Political analyst Dr Surendra Jondhale said, "The change in perception towards the Sena is entirely because of the candidates. At the municipal corporation level, the victory of candidates depends on their rapport with locals. If the party was a criteria of selection, then MIM could have gained more seats, but this is not the case."

Strange bedfellows
With these changing equations, political analysts also feel that things could become easy for the Sena to get Congress on board to support it to select its mayor, as it (Sena) has made an entry in Muslim-populated areas. According to political experts, with two Muslim corporators and five candidates in minority-dominated areas, the Shiv Sena has shown its 'secular' side.

Under such circumstances, using this secular image, the Congress could find a new partner in the Sena to keep the BJP at bay. Going by numbers, Congress could prove to be the best alliance partner for Sena, which has 84 seats — 31 short of majority in the BMC, and the exact number of seats that the Congress has. On Friday, four independent corporators — Snehal More from Vikhroli, Tulsidas Shinde from Dindoshi, Changez Multani from Jogeshwari, and Kiran Landge from Kurla — joined Shiv Sena. With this Sena's tally has reached 88, now only 26 short of majority.

Why Muslims turned to the Sena

The party has started changing its stand on Muslims related subjects strategically in past few months. In the past few months, Shiv Sena's mouthpiece, 'Dopahar Ka Samana,' a Hindi daily, has started writing balanced articles on issues related to Muslims, like triple talaq, lack of awareness in the community, the role of maulvis, etc.

A party leader said, "Dopahar Ka Samana has a decent readership in Govandi and other pockets which has north Indian Muslims. To some extent it helped in influencing the community with its balanced view on Muslims."

When mid-day asked Sena corporator Halim Khan what led Muslims choose the party, since it is known for its Hindutva agenda, he said, "The Sena was not against anyone who is a citizen of the city or state. But the party is against people who are citizens of the city and chant 'Pakistan Zindabad.'"

He added, "This is the first time any Muslim candidate from the Sena has won the elections, and I am hopeful that the party will lead the development in Behrampada and Garib Nagar area." Khan won the election from ward number 92 (Behrampada, Bandra Terminus, Garib Nagar).

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