Two years after the Fadnavis government came to power riding on the Modi wave, the municipal council polls results – in the past three phases — indicate that the BJP has left its mark across small towns in the state.
In terms of seats, the BJP managed to win 1,090 seats out of the 4,460 seats in 199 municipal councils and nagar panchayats (only another 11 more municipal councils will go to polls in January, 2017), trailed by Congress with 894 seats, the NCP with 786 seats and the Shiv Sena in the fourth position with 598 seats.
In 2011, the NCP was on top with 1,111 seats, followed by the Congress with 992, the BJP with 340 seats and the Sena with 333 seats. The ruling party has not just jumped from third position in the 2011 polls, it has also won the maximum number of directly elected municipal presidents posts (64). The Congress is second with 33 presidents, followed by the Shiv Sena (26) and NCP (21).
At the same time, the results indicate the Congress and NCP, despite the fall in seats from the 2011 polls, have managed to redeem themselves after the wipeout in the 2014 Assembly elections.
The BJP’s victory comes at the cost of its ally Sena as well as the main Opposition party Congress. A big part of this victory is also because the party managed to cement a support base in Vidarbha. Nearly half of the council seats won by the BJP — around 518 — are in Vidarbha, which was always a stronghold, but went completely saffron in the 2014 polls.
The bigger challenge for the BJP, however, will be the second round of the mini-assembly polls that kicks off in February, with 10 municipal corporations, including Mumbai, and 26 district councils going to polls. The BJP’s performance in the district council or the zilla parishad (ZP) elections will be an indicator of how the party fares in rural areas that have been dominated by the Congress and the NCP. In the state’s rural politics, controlling ZPs is crucial.
The compilation of results announced so far shows the BJP not only retained its strongholds, but also made inroads into Congress space and ate into ally Sena’s votebank, especially in western Maharashtra and Marathwada. In a nutshell, the Fadnavis-led ruling party managed to keep the momentum that it gained in the 2014 polls, despite demonetisation and a perception that it lacks grassroot strength.
“The BJP has consolidated the support it won in the last Assembly elections and clearly won over the middle classes in these small towns. In Vidarbha, it has managed to turn the narrative in its favour completely. But the results also show that the Congress and NCP have regained lost ground while Sena’s space has been eroded,’’ said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
The central Marathwada region, for instance, will continue to be a challenge for the BJP following the death of its tallest leader Gopinath Munde. The main tug of war in this region is between former allies Congress and NCP. In Konkan, too, the BJP continues to face challenge especially from ally Sena.
The strategic decision to hold direct elections for the president’s post in municipal councils has played to the BJP’s strength by helping it put all its power behind one candidate in a direct face-off, instead of fielding several candidates.
But it’s only the next round of polls that will give us a sneak peek of how far this victory of the BJP will take the party and what’s likely in the 2019 Assembly polls.