The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has put up an impressive performance by emerging on the top in the civic polls that were held for 147 municipal councils governing small cities amid the Centre’s demonetisation drive and the Maratha agitation for reservation in government jobs and education.
This was only the first phase of the local elections and in the next three months all civic bodies including those running 10 major cities such as Mumbai, Pune and Nashik as well as district councils (zila parishads), will go to polls.
Five years ago when the elections were held for these local government bodies, the ruling parties - Congress and Nationalist Congress Parties (NCP) - won the maximum seats, pushing the BJP to the third and Shiv Sena to the fourth position. Monday’s results show that the BJP and the Shiv Sena have reversed the trend.
In this election, people voted for ward representatives as well as directly elected the chairman or president of the civic body. This rule of directly electing civic body chief worked well in favour of the BJP. As many as 52 directly elected presidents are from the BJP followed by the Sena (24) and the Congress (22). In the case of elected representatives from wards, the BJP remained on top followed by the Congress.
The NCP is turning out to be the biggest loser. The picture will be clearer after the state election commission releases official figures on Tuesday.
However, it has emerged that the BJP is ahead of the other parties. It did well in stronghold Vidarbha and also managed to maintain its hold on several areas where it made inroads in 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections.
There were arguments on the possible impact of demonetisation on the outcome of the elections. Either it worked in favour of the BJP or it did not affect it much or it could be a combination of both. The 147 small cities where the election was held are semi-urban areas that are largely under the influence of rural economy.
The BJP was quick to attribute the success to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s demonetisation move.
“Before the elections, we had 8 presidents of civic bodies. Now it has reached 52. People have supported demonetisation of the currency,” Union human resources development minister Prakash Javdekar said in Delhi.
Other parties were not willing to give the BJP enough credit. State Congress chief Ashok Chavan on Monday alleged that the BJP used resources and misused the government to win the elections.
And a bitter remark came from BJP’s ally Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.
“I congratulate the BJP as they have emerged number one. They (BJP) forged alliances with everybody (with different parties in different cities). That seems to have benefitted them. The Sena fought on its own and out success is purely ours,” he said.
Traditionally, the civic polls in several small cities in Maharashtra are fought through local fronts which are a combination of various parties.
It’s a good start for the BJP and especially chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who was the party’s face in Maharashtra. He campaigned extensively and also forcefully put forth party’s stand on the demonetisation drive.
The local election battle has just begun. Elections to some more municipal councils and zila parishads and later civic bodies in major cities such as Mumbai, Pune,Thane and Nashik are yet to come. The entire exercise—being described as mini-assembly polls since the local polls will be held across the state—would be a test for the Fadnavis-led government’s popularity as it has entered its third year.
While the BJP will now use the momentum to score over the opposition, the Congress and NCP will have to revisit their strategies. They are now planning to highlight hardship caused by the demonetisation. The two parties may also consider forging an alliance to improve their position in the remaining local bodies, especially zila parishads that are crucial for them.
Such a political realignment may even force the BJP and the Sena to go together in the coming polls. The ruling partners are locked in a bitter power tussle with the BJP open about its intention to win in the crucial Mumbai civic body polls.
It was probably more than a coincidence that Fadnavis and Uddhav shared the dais at a Mumbai civic body function on Monday as the results were pouring in and publicly appreciated each other’s work.