Ranjona Banerji: Sena on shaky ground, polls to decide all

16 Feb,2012

By Ranjona Banerji


Mumbai has elections on February 16 to select its municipal corporators. Since the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation has a bigger budget than some state governments, this is an important election. It is also a political test for the incumbent Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party and a signal for the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance – which is in power in the state – about the roadblocks ahead for the next general election.


Not surprisingly, election coverage has dominated Mumbai’s newspapers. Most seem to think that the ground is shaky for the Shiv Sena. This is, in a sense, a last bastion for the Sena – it has ruled the BMC for almost two decades. But everyday, newspapers are full of the shortcomings of the corporation and the corruption involved in most deals. Mumbai’s roads and water supply get the most attention and none of it positive.


The general sense you get from newspapers is that this time there will be a challenge to Bal Thackeray from not just the Congress-NCP but also of course from his nephew Raj Thackeray and his breakaway party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. Uddhav Thackeray – the son and the main bone of contention – does not have the requisite firepower, seems to be the overwhelming feeling. There is also a discussion on whether both the Senas will cancel each other out.


The Times of India and The Indian Express both carry interviews with chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, who says he pushed for an alliance with the NCP this time – to avoid fracturing the vote as happened when both parties went alone in 2007.


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All newspapers have also focused on the low voter turnout in Mumbai and have exhorted citizens to come out and vote. You could pick up any newspaper to find out all about the candidates from their bank balances to their educational qualifications. The new seat reservations have created some turmoil in parties, all of which have been faithfully recorded.


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Interestingly, the high number of dry days – three have been decided by the Election Commission – has been cause for consternation in print. The bar and restaurant association has put in a plea reported in Wednesday’s papers to allow the sale of alcohol in the evenings of the dry days, after voting is over on Thursday. The right to drink is well-felt by most journalists, so it is easy to see why this forced abstinence should get prominence.


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It is these little titbits which make newspaper reading so pleasant a pastime. The oddities of life rarely find room in the high-pitched breaking news landscape of TV land.


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