MUMBAI: With the Election Commission announcing that by-poll for the Andheri East assembly segment will be held on November 3, the stage is set for the first direct electoral clash between the Uddhav Thackeray faction of Shiv Sena and the BJP-Eknath Shinde combine after the formation of the Shinde-Fadnavis government.
The Thackeray faction has announced that Rutuja Latke, widow of MLA Ramesh Latke whose death in May has necessitated the by-election, will be its candidate, while BJP Mumbai unit chief Ashish Shelar on Sunday said former corporator Murji Patel will be the party's candidate, though the official announcement will be made by the central leadership. The Shinde faction will back the BJP nominee though it's yet to make a formal announcement.
All eyes are on whether the Uddhav camp gets to keep its 'bow & arrow' for the by-poll as the symbol issue is before the EC, and the last date for filing nominations is October 14.
The Thackeray faction has the satisfaction of knowing that NCP and Congress will be supporting its candidate. Congress has a considerable vote base in the constituency, a Sena functionary said. The area has a significant Christian, Muslim, Dalit, Bunts, North Indian and Marathi population. It is estimated that there are around 50% Hindus.
Uddhav camp gets NCP and Congress support for by-election
The Uddhav Thackeray-led faction's candidate in the Andheri East assembly constituency by-poll will be supported by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress as part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi. NCP chief Sharad Pawar said in Pune on Monday that his party will support the Sena nominee.
The Congress's Mumbai unit president Bhai Jagtap said that the parties were together as the MVA. "The party has so far not taken a decision on fielding a candidate. They (Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena) have made a request not to put up a candidate. The party will decide in the next two days," he said.
He added the Congress wanted to maintain the MVA and besides, the Sena had helped Congress in the Kolhapur and Nanded by-elections (when the MVA was still in government). "The mood of the party is to support the Shiv Sena," he said.
Senior Sena leaders said they are in touch with Congress leaders. "We are expecting the Congress to back the Sena candidate. If that happens, Rutuja Latke will become the MVA candidate. We are expecting the Congress high command to agree and soon declare support," a Sena functionary said.
The area has a significant Christian, Muslim, Dalit, Bunts, North Indian and Marathi population. Parties are concerned that the Christians, who traditionally have voted for the Congress, may not come out in full strength to cast their votes. In 2014 and 2019, Christian votes in the constituency were split between the Congress and BJP.
"Congress support will help the Sena win with a big margin," said the functionary. The constituency is also a highly-industrialised one, with the MIDC located there, along with several corporate parks and hotels given that the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport is in the area.
The constituency is spread over nine civic electoral wards, of which the Sena, in the dissolved BMC House, represented four, BJP three and Congress two.
One of the BJP corporators here, Sunil Yadav, passed away a few months before the term of the Mumbai municipal corporation came to an end earlier this year, and Sandeep Nayak of the Sena and Nitin Salgare of the Congress were declared elected after the Bombay high court upheld the disqualification of Murji Patel and his wife who had submitted fake caste certificates.
Patel and his wife had contested on a BJP ticket in the previous BMC election. Abhijeet Samant and Ujwala Modak were the other two sitting BJP corporators from this area.
Jogeshwari MLA Ravindra Waikar of the Thackeray camp, who has worked in the area, said that the Andheri East assembly constituency has a cosmopolitan mix of voters, and "with the Congress, the NCP and the Sena supporting each other, the Sena candidate will certainly win."