MUMBAI: One of the interesting aspects of the upcoming Andheri (East) Assembly bypoll will be whether the votes of Congress get transferred to Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction's candidate supported by Congress and NCP and if Muslim voters support the saffron party, according to political observers. Though the byelection is a litmus test for Shiv Sena, it will not be a deciding factor for the future of the party, founded by Bal Thackeray in 1966, they said.
The observers feel the outcome of elections to the Mumbai civic body, due in the next few months, will be the "ultimate test" for Uddhav Thackeray.
The November 3 bypoll will be a straight contest between 'The Shiv Sena Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray' (SSUBT) party and the combination of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Eknath Shinde-led faction.
It is the first electoral contest after the split in Shiv Sena that led to the collapse of the Uddhav Thackeray-led government a few months back and the freezing of the"bow and arrow" symbol of the parent Shiv Sena by the Election Commission.
Rutuja Latke, the widow of sitting Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke, is the candidate of the SSUBT backed by NCP and Congress.
She will face Murji Patel of BJP who is supported by 'Balasahebanchi Shiv Sena', the new nomenclature for the group led by Maharashtra Chief Minister Eknath Shinde.
Both candidates filed their nominations on Friday.
"The Andheri bypoll will see if votes of Congress get transferred to Shiv Sena and if Muslim electorates cast their votes for Shiv Sena," senior journalist and author Prakash Akolkar told PTI.
He said the Shinde-led faction, which claims to be the "real" Shiv Sena, has "surrendered" the Andheri (East) seat, which fell vacant after the death of the Shiv Sena MLA (Ramesh Latke), to its alliance partner BJP.
Though the byelection is a litmus test for Shiv Sena, it will not be a deciding factor for the future of the party (read Uddhav Thackeray).
"Rather it is the outcome of the Mumbai civic elections that will decide the future of Shiv Sena. The BMC polls will be the ultimate exam for Uddhav Thackeray," he said.
Other political observers feel the bypoll will be no doubt an indicator of if Uddhav Thackeray can influence votes.
"The general mood of the electorate in Mumbai post a massive revolt in Shiv Sena and the collapse of the MVA government can also be gauged from the results," they said.
The counting of votes will be taken up on November 6.
The Shiv Sena, NCP, and Congress are members of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) which was formed after the Sena broke decades-old ties with the BJP post the 2019 Maharashtra elections.
Senior Congress leader Ratnakar Mahajan said voters loyal to Shiv Sena always backed the parent party on the "vague emotional appeal of 'Marathi manoos' and Hindutva".
"This sentiment will now be divided due to the split in Shiv Sena," he said.
Another interesting aspect will be if the Thackeray brand still attracts votes.
The Andheri East Assembly constituency is one of the 26 segments located in the Mumbai Suburban district. It is part of the Mumbai North West Lok Sabha constituency.
The Assembly segment largely comprises Marathi voters, followed by north Indians, south Indians, Christians, and Muslims.
The late Ramesh Latke had wrested the seat from Congress in 2014. In 2009, it was represented by Suresh Shetty of Congress.
Latke bagged 62,680 votes in the 2019 polls. BJP's Murji Patel, who had contested as an Independent, polled 45,680 votes. Congress' Amin Kutty finished third with 27,925 votes.