Barely a day before campaign for the Pune civic elections ended, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar, an otherwise composed leader, addressed a rally in Pimpri-Chinchwad and used an unseemly simile for chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. The comparison was telling. It showed Sharad and his nephew Ajit’s anxiety over the imminent rout in their strongholds of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.
On Thursday, their fears became true as the NCP lost ground to a resurgent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the industrial town of Pimpri-Chinchwad. The former was reduced to 36 from 84 in the 2012 elections to the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation while the latter bagged 78 of total 128 seats from its earlier tally of three.
On the back of some defectors, the saffron party saw an astronomical rise in Pune too, winning 98 seats in the house of 162 from 28 in 2012.
The NCP’s decimation comes after its president recently completed 50 years in parliamentary politics.
But what changed the paradigm of the electoral politics in the cultural capital of the state and the twin cities?
The BJP attributed its grand showing in the two civic bodies to the Modi factor and Fadnavis’ development agenda while experts feel that strategic poaching of NCP and Congress leaders ensured party’s success. Another factor that worked for the BJP, part leaders said, the foundation laying of Metro rail project, which had been in the pipeline for more than a decade.
In Pimpri-Chinchwad, the BJP first poached Laxman Jagtap, an MLA, and made him the city chief. Jagtap, working overtime, ensured that other associates of Ajit switched their loyalties. Month before the elections, Fadnavis dealt another blow to Ajit by bringing Mahesh Landge, an MLA, into the party fold. Landge and Jagtap then persuaded Azam Pansare, who had been NCP’s face in Pimpri-Chinchwad for decades, to join the BJP.
Relying on the three defectors, the BJP distributed tickets mostly to imports from the NCP, which was until recently considered invincible. They, however, were modest in claiming the credit for party’s resounding victory. “The people voted for development, which was our main plank. They saw that Fadnavis is committed to the development of this town,” said Landge.
On the other hand, the Pune civic polls showed that the BJP spread its influence across all social classes in the city. It had never crossed 30% of vote share in Pune till 2012. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Anil Shirole won the seat with a margin of more than 5 lakh. In the same year, the BJP romped home with all eight constituencies with a 62% vote share. In the civic elections, it has clocked 61% of vote share, retaining its voter base.
Party leaders attribute its phenomenal growth to Modi factor, coupled with Fadnavis’ leadership. “The leadership in Delhi and Mumbai is incredible, which helps in wooing voters. In addition, organisational strength supports the leadership,” said Pune party president Yogesh Gogawale.