Mumbai South The swing seat to watch!

As an election statistics junkie, one is always on the look out for constituencies that reflect the electorate of that city/state and is usually a good indicator of which way the wind is blowing. That seat in Maharashtra for many elections now, has been Mumbai South. Since 1996, in every Lok Sabha election South Mumbai has always voted for the party that has won the city and the state.

1996: BJP-Shiv Sena (SS)
1998: Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)
1999: BJP-SS
2004: Congress-NCP
2009: Congress-NCP 

The erstwhile South Mumbai seat (before delimitation) was dominated mainly by affluent Gujaratis/Marwaris and pockets of minority vote. But post delimitation just ahead of the 2009 Lok Sabha  elections, it wouldn't be an overstatement to call South Mumbai a “mini-Mumbai”. No other seat reflects the diversity of Mumbai like South Mumbai does. Of the six Assembly segments that from this constituency, Worli & Shivadi has a heavy Marathi manoos vote, including the famous Lalbaug areas. Then comes Byculla, which has a mix of Marathi, minority voters and the slums of Dagdi Chawl. But the real swing Assembly segment of late has been Malabar Hill, indisputably the most affluent Assembly seat in Mumbai, Maharashtra and probably all of India. This is followed by Mumbadevi, having a significant minority vote and houses the famous Bhindi Bazaar locality! Colaba, which is hosts the Gateway of India and renowned Taj Mahal Palace Hotel) has a mix of all the above and is notorious for low voter turnout (lowest voter turnout among all 288 Assembly constituencies of Maharashtra in 2009 Assembly polls).

With this background, let's re-visit what happened in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, when the seat was retained by the young Congress MP Milind Deora (son of former Union Minister Murli Deora, who contested this seat 7 times in a row from 1980 to 1999 and won 4 times).
                                 


Candidate

Votes polled

Votes (%)

Milind Deora (Congress)

2,72,000

42.46

Bala Nandgaonkar (MNS)

1,60,000

24.90

Mohan Rawale (Shiv Sena )

1,46,000

22.78

Mohammad Shaikh(BSP)

34,000

5.27


But these figures hide more than what they reveal – to understand how the 3 distinct parts of South Mumbai voted, it is fascinating to look at the votes polled by the candidates in each of the six assembly segments of the constituency.
       

Assembly seat

Milind Deora

Bala Nandgaonkar

Mohan Rawale

Worli

39,284

38,089

30,751

Shivadi

27,235

48,738

37,454

Byculla

50,177

26,301

14,855

Malabar Hill

53,357

20,043

30689

Mumbadevi

54,186

10,135

12,511

Colaba

48,167

16,415

19,848

 

The pattern is quite self-explanatory. As we move from the Marathi-dominated assembly segments to the Gujarati, affluent and minority-dominated ones, Milind Deora’s performance and margins multiply. So much so that in Malabar Hill, Mumbadevi and Colaba, the combined votes of SS and MNS is not good enough to overtake Deora. Does this make Milind Deora invincible this time round as well? Not really. Here is why: Take a look at how the same three parties performed in the assembly elections held just 6 months later, in October 2009:
                    


Assembly seat

Congress-NCP

MNS

Shiv Sena-BJP

Worli

52,372

32,491

47,073

Shivadi

15,437

64,354

57,895

Byculla

36,299

27,179

20,686

Malabar Hill

33,971

25,946

58,530

Mumbadevi

45,283

Not contested

28,634

Colaba

39,777

22,750

31,721

Total votes

2,23,139

1,72,720

2,44,539


If BJP-SS wants to wrest South Mumbai from Deora, the path will have to mirror the results of the 2009 Assembly elections, i.e., clean up the Congress in the Marathi-dominated Shivadi Assembly segment and reverse the trend in Malabar Hill.


If there is one eye popping statistic from the 2009 results in South Mumbai, it is Malabar Hill! This is one Assembly seat which hasn't elected a Congress MLA since 1995. This is also a seat from where even Milind Deora’s father, Murli Deora, trailed badly in 1996, 1998 and 1999 Lok Sabha elections. And still, Milind Deora took a lead of 23,000 votes over Shiv Sena in the 2009 polls. In fact, even in 2004, Milind Deora trailed the sitting BJP MP Jayawantiben Mehta by almost 10,000 votes from Malabar Hill. But the story only gets more intriguing. Just 6 months after giving Deora a decisive lead, the same Malabar Hill assembly segment returned the BJP's Mangal Prabhat Lodha by his highest margin ever (25,000 votes) to the Assembly. In statistical parlance, that’s a swing of 50,000 votes! No other Assembly segment in Mumbai witnessed even such a swing in both, votes and percentage!

What all this eventually means is that candidates matter. The Gujarati-speaking Milind Deora connected culturally with the aspirational Gujarati voters of Malabar Hill and quite naturally the high decibel pro-Marathi candidates of Shiv Sena and MNS were a bad fit for affluent, non-Marathi voters. But what should really give Milind Deora sleepless nights is the indisputable fact that it is the affluent, upper middle class voters who have soured the most on the Congress-UPA and who are likely to be extremely motivated to vote.  Nowhere in Mumbai will the Narendra Modi effect be on test more than in Malabar Hill constituency. If NaMo cant work his magic among affluent, Gujarati voters of South Mumbai, there will be a serious question mark over the famed 'NaMo wave'!

But that still doesn’t solve the other puzzle – Can Shiv Sena’s Arvind Savant build a good lead over Deora in the Marathi-speaking areas of Worli & Shivadi? That depends a lot on MNS candidate Bala Nandgaonkar (sitting MLA from Shivadi), who also contested in 2009 and pushed Shiv Sena to third place. MNS leaders say if there is one seat where they have a great chance to open their Lok Sabha account, it is this one.

Nandgaonkar is a feisty campaigner, who shot to fame with a stunning upset of Chhagan Bhujbal (who defected from Shiv Sena to Congress in early 90s) from Mazgaon in 1995. But for Nandgaonkar to win, the path is quite narrow, if not impossible. MNS will have to literally “run the table” in Shivadi & Worli and surprise everyone in all the other Assembly segments, where Marathi voters are much fewer in number.

Coming back to Shiv Sena’s Arvind Savant, his path to victory will have to be close to something like this: Build a solid lead over Deora in Shivadi and Worli, decisively re-capture the traditional BJP bastion of Malabar Hill, significantly reduce Deora’s lead in Colaba and pray that Aam Aadmi Party’s Meera Sanyal takes away a chunk of the minority votes in Mumbadevi.   

The X-factor in this seat will be the votes that Meera Sanyal polls. As an Independent, she received just over 10,000 votes in 2009, 80 per cent of which came from the upper middle class areas of Malabar Hill and Colaba. She is likely to do much better this time and once again probably in the very same Assembly segments as last time, but that will end up hurting both Deora and Savant. These are votes that went to Deora in 2009 Parliamentary polls and to the BJP in 2009 Assembly polls. But Deora’s fate may ultimately be decided by Sanyal’s performance in the minority dominated stretch from Bhindi Bhazaar to Mohammed Ali Road.

Young turk Milind Deora sure won’t find the going as easy as five years ago, in his bid to retain the quintessential swing seat!

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