Published On : Sun, Jan 29th, 2017

Civic and Zilla Parishad elections: To the BJP’s advantage

Nagpur/Mumbai: This promises to be a battle like no other. Known alliances have come apart, and new equations face the test of survival. More than half the State’s population is set to vote in next month’s municipal corporation and zilla parishad elections, being seen as ‘mini-Assembly’ polls. Held halfway into the Devendra Fadnavis-led government’s five-year tenure, the results will unarguably impact the 2019 Assembly elections.

Shifting power equations

The greatest impact will be felt by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). For decades (25 years in Mumbai), it was part of a ruling alliance with the Shiv Sena.

This time, though, the contours of the game have changed. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray recently announced an electoral split with the BJP, and his decision to go it solo. As a result, the Opposition Congress and NCP are likely to forge an alliance to consolidate anti-BJP and anti-Sena votes.

The lack of a poll alliance may cause the BJP some pain. Barring Nagpur, the party does not control any of the 10 municipal corporations going to the polls. The BJP has always been credited with urban appeal; yet, of the four major parties in Maharashtra, it has the least corporators at 205, while the NCP, Congress and the Sena have 265, 264 and 227 respectively.

In the 25 poll-bound ZPs, the BJP has only 165 councillors. The NCP has 511, the Congress 419 and Sena, 243.

Political observers say the split was only a matter of time. “The BJP enjoys [what is] possibly the height of its political strength and does not want to miss an opportunity to win the Mumbai civic polls without the Sena’s help. The Sena, on the other hand, is aware of the snub from the BJP. For them, it is time, ahead of the 2019 Assembly polls, to reassemble its strength across the State,” Dr. Surendra Jondhale, Professor and Head of Department, Civic and Politics, University of Mumbai, said.

Resting on laurels

The BJP’s confidence could be stemming from its performance in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, in which the Sena-BJP combine and its allies won 42 of 48 seats. In the Assembly elections, the BJP and Sena took first and second place respectively (they fought independenty), and the BJP alone accounted for nearly 30% of the votes.

Not everyone is confident it can pull off a repeat performance in the civic polls. In the 2012 BMC elections, it won just 8.64% of votes cast, while the Sena garnered 21.85% and the Congress 21.23%. Given these numbers, the Sena believes its former alliance partner is being “over-ambitious”.

“People may not vote for you in the civic elections, though they have done so in the Lok Sabha polls. One cannot seek a 50-50 division of seats on the basis of just one election,” said Sena MLC Anil Parab, who was part of the delegation that held discussions with the BJP.

The party is rapidly losing its popularity, said NCP’s Maharashtra unit chief Sunil Tatkare. “If the 2014 voting percentages were applicable, the party should have won 90% of the municipal councils two months ago. But it won the presidential post in only 64 of 180 councils.”

Sena has its own plans

Meanwhile, the Sena is aching to spread its wings. In his Republic Day speech, Mr. Thackeray blamed the alliance for the party’s lack of rural influence and a restricted presence in the State.

For long, the Sena has faced criticism for its Mumbai- and Thane-centric politics. While most leaders are busy campaigning, a handful of its leaders have chosen to venture out. With a clear mandate from Matoshri, the party is eyeing the 2019 Assembly polls, and several party leaders have expressed their desire to see Mr. Thackeray as the next CM.

A weak Opposition

A reason why the Sena can afford to take on the BJP is lacklustre performance by the Congress and NCP. Infighting, ego clashes and the lack of charismatic leadership have wrecked their prospects. While the Congress still has its voter base and an advantage in rural areas, it faces an aggressive BJP. In addition, the rise of the Owaisi brothers’ MIM may cost the Congress its Muslim vote bank, as was seen in the council polls.

Similarly, NCP leaders are facing corruption charges which threaten to dilute the assertive leadership of former Deputy CM Ajit Pawar. Many cadres have moved to the BJP.

In urban areas the polls may turn into a Sena-versus-BJP fight and later into an alliance for power, as seen in the 2015 Kalyan Dombivli Municipal Corporation elections. “We are hopeful about the alliance with the Congress in as many areas as possible. The BJP is not as strong as it wants people to believe and I am sure it can be defeated with the alliance of secular parties,” Mr. Tatkare said. It remains to be seen if their alliances will breach known strongholds.

Winning Vidarbha (Nagpur again)

In Nagpur , Shiv Sena workers lit firecrackers at the party office on Friday, delighted that their leader, Uddhav Thackeray, had decided to go it alone in the civic elections.

But it is the BJP’s cadre who have more reason for celebration. After all, why share the Vidarbha pie when you can keep it for yourself? Since the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, when it won all ten seats in the region, it has dominated every election here. It won 44 of 62 seats (11 out of 12 in Nagpur district) in the Vidhan Sabha, and did well in the recent municipal council and nagar panchayat elections.

Among the three municipal corporations and several zilla parishads, election to the Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC) will take centre stage.

For the BJP, the Orange City isn’t just the State’s winter capital; it is also the party’s spiritual centre and hometown to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union minister Nitin Gadkari. Both leaders have already made it a prestige issue and have promised to win more than 100 of the 151 seats. The BJP has ruled the NMC for the last 10 years, and their strong organisational network, the presence of Mr. Fadnavis and Mr. Gadkari, and a fractured opposition have negated any anti-incumbency.

The Congress, the BJP’s only serious rival in the NMC over the years, is a party divided with bickering groups led by former MP Vilas Muttemwar, former State Cabinet minister Satish Chaturvedi, Nitin Raut and Anees Ahmed. But district president Vikas Thakre claims the ‘perception’ of different camps may have arisen out of competition within. “Our party is united and we will win handsomely, because the BJP has done nothing for the city in last ten years.”

Improvement to infrastructure, though, is visible across the city: new roads, the Metro railway, new pipelines.

Neighbouring Amravati is a Congress and NCP stronghold, but the political situation is currently fluid. As recently as January 27, an NCP leader and four corporators defected to the BSP. These last-minute defections have complicated the situation, and a clear picture is likely only after the NCP and Congress decide on an alliance.

In Akola, the ruling BJP has to resolve open infighting between MLA and Minister of State Ranjeet Patil and MP Sanjay Dhotre. The fate of this civic body will also depend on how well Prakash Ambedkar’s Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh does.

In Wardha, the BJP suddenly found itself in a dominating position in 2014, when senior politician Dutta Meghe and his family crossed over from the Congress. While there is infighting in the district unit to sort out, the party looks like it will win here.

Source The Hindu ( Alok Deshpande and Pavan Dahat )