Endgame for Sharad Pawar after Maharashtra civic poll debacle
Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has lost its last urban bastions in Maharashtra after losing both Pimpri-Chinchwad and Pune in the civic body polls.cities Updated: Feb 24, 2017 18:51 IST
Barely a day before campaigning for Maharashtra’s civic body elections ended, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar addressed a rally in Pimpri-Chinchwad where he likened Devendra Fadnavis to a blind man putting his hands on the genitals, an adage often shared in rural Maharashtra.
Though Pawar left the adage incomplete, it reflected his desperation and perhaps even a sense of foreboding about an imminent rout in a town he, and later his nephew Ajit, controlled for years.
On Thursday, as the election results started coming in, it became clear that the Pawar anxiety was not misplaced – the NCP’s seats in the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation fell to a mere 36 from 84 in 2014.
A side note to the NCP’s decimation: it came a day after Pawar completed 50 years in electoral politics.
But more importantly, the BJP managed to raise its own tally from 3 to 78, indicating that this industrial town had turned saffron in a few years.
Till two years ago, the BJP was finding it difficult to search candidates. But the 2014 assembly elections changed that scenario when BJP led by Devendra Fadnavis devised a strategy to poach confidants of Pawars one after another.
The saffron outfit first poached Laxman Jagtap, an MLA, and made him the Pimpri-Chinchwad chief. Jagtap, working overtime, ensured that other associates of Ajit switched loyalties.
Months before the elections, Fadnavis dealt another jolt to the NCP by getting yet another close aide of Pawar junior, Mahesh Landge, an MLA. Landge and Jagtap then poached Azam Pansare, who was once a loyal face of Sharad Pawar in Pimpri-Chinchwad for decades.
Jagtap, Landge and Pansare, on whom Pawars relied in order to retain their bastion, distributed tickets mostly to imports coming from NCP, which till recently was considered invincible in this belt. These three leaders, however, were modest in claiming credit for the BJP’s resounding victory.
“The people voted for development, which was our main plant. They saw that Fadnavis is committed to development of this town,” said Landge.
In Pune, too, the BJP grew from 26 in 2012 to 98, dislodging the NCP. The party expanded its base in suburban areas by opening its doors to aspirants coming from other parties. According to political observers, among the factors that worked in the party’s favour was the foundation of metro rail project which was in the pipeline for more than a decade but did not move forward during NCP regime.
Having lost power at the Centre and the state in 2014, the NCP had a make-or-break fight to maintain hold over Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporations, the two civic bodies with a total budget of Rs. 9,200 crore.
By losing both, the NCP has lost its last bastion in urban Maharashtra.