Maharashtra Civic Polls—A tsunami, or a receding wave?

After the first and largest phase of Maharashtra’s local body polls, both ruling and opposition parties have reason to cheer, and reason to introspect


NH Political Bureau

The first take-away from the first and largest phase of civic elections in Maharashtra held on November 27, is that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is cannibalising the votes of the Shiv Sena. The second, more interesting aspect is that despite being majorly discredited during the 2014 elections to the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra state assembly, the Congress and the NCP are clawing their way back in the semi-urban areas of the state.

Although the BJP did commendably at these polls in view of the opposition’s campaign against the hardships being faced by people after the BJP-led Union government’s sudden demonetisation of ₹500 and ₹1,000 currency notes, a closer look reveals that while it won over 50 out of 147 in the direct elections to the post of Nagar Adhyaksh (chairman), in many Nagar Palikas (councils) it won the chairman’s seat but lost the council. For instance, in Yeola in Nashik district where it won the chairman’s seat, BJP has just four seats in Yeola’s council of 20-plus seats. This will render it’s chairman unable to undertake any work without the consent of the Shiv Sena and NCP corporators.

The Sena has done well in several councils in Nashik district. It, however, is lagging in several other districts. Perhaps, it is time for the Sena to introspect where its alliance with the BJP is leading the party. For a long time now it has been eating its cake and wanting to have it too. Obviously, large sections of the people are not convinced by its stand of clinging to government and simultaneously acting like the opposition on practically every issue that troubles the BJP-SS ruling alliance.

Table: Maharashtra Civic Polls party positions by seats, including 3,705 seats which went to polls on November 27

Though the election was billed as a referendum on demonetisation, it may be too early to label it as quite that, for otherwise the BJP should not have done as badly in some councils considered its strongholds. For example, at Parli and Ambejogai in Beed district, the NCP resoundingly defeated the BJP, taking 27 of 33 seats on the home turf of Minister for Women and Child Welfare Pankaja Munde. Even BJP state president Raosaheb Danve had to cede his home turf Bokhardan to the Congress.

That the results are a mixed bag is apparent from the fact that former Congress Revenue Minister Narayan Rane made a big comeback in his pocket boroughs in the Konkan, while former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of the Congress and ex-Rural Development Minister Jayant Patil of the NCP ceded ground in Western Maharashtra. However, compared to the 2014 position during the Lok Sabha polls, when Congress got only two seats and NCP six, and also to the assembly polls six months later where Congress led the NCP by two seats, winning 43 in a house of 288, the Congress has now surged ahead of the Shiv Sena and NCP in terms of seats won.

The lesson here for the Congress is that while it retains its popularity among voters in some good measure, it needs a more visible leadership—all other parties mounted an aggressive campaign but Congress leaders were comparatively low key. However, voter fatigue with the Congress is clearly abating since 2014. Now the NCP, which has been accused by many Congressmen of coming to a covert arrangement with the BJP to decimate the Congress, is looking for an alliance with its old partner. But as even last week’s election to the State Legislative Council showed, the party does well even without the NCP which, in turn, is worse off without an alliance with the Congress.

In these results, thus, there is a little for every party to be pleased about and a lot to introspect for all, even the BJP, which has put on the happiest face after these polls, for it has slipped from its 2014 levels. The Shiv Sena’s fortunes will crucially depend on elections to four major municipal corporations—Mumbai, Nagpur, Nashik and Thane—coming up in the next phases. Both parties are thrilled by their performances and each is denying the need for an alliance after these results. But complacency could prove dangerous, particularly as both the Congress and the NCP are aware of how they feed on—and off—each other and seem to be taking corrective steps where necessary.

With the next round of civic polls due in mid-December, all four main political parties of Maharashtra have miles to go before they sit back and take it easy.

This story will be updated with final results of party control over councils, which are still awaited.

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