The result of the elections to 10 civic bodies and 25 district councils has given a rude shock to the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The BJP has surprised the opposition parties by winning eight civic bodies including that of Pune on its own or emerged as largest party to be in a position to win power there. In Mumbai it is just two short of the largest party Shiv Sena’s tally and in Thane, too, it is second largest party after the Shiv Sena. In rural areas, it did well in at least 10 district councils of zilla parishads (ZP). This is remarkable performance. The general opinion in state’s political circles was that the BJP would do well in cities and win a few ZPs but the result turned out to be unexpected for the most.
In fact, most of the frontline leaders in the opposition camp were under the impression that the people were fed up with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) governments at the Centre and in the state especially after the demonetisation and hence would vote against them. The lethargy or unwillingness (due to certain reasons such as cash crunch) was such that even when the BJP was seen going all out to win the elections, the Congress-NCP were taking it easy. While the BJP launched its campaign blitzkrieg, there was lack of effective communication with the people by the opposition parties. But that is not the only reason why the results were unexpected for the Opposition.
Poll management, the BJP way
The opposition parties are yet to realise the seriousness with which the BJP fights every election now. This is a different BJP under PM Narendra Modi and Amit Shah. Each election is treated as an opportunity to increase the party’s footprint and a chance to further occupy political space. Following BJP’s victory, several opposition leaders have alleged that the party spent lot of money to win elections. This may or may not be true. But then, it is not the first party that has resources at its disposal to use in elections. Today’s opposition parties were accused of doing the same when they were ruling the state. The difference here is that the BJP’s election managers leave nothing to chance. Right from deputing the footsoldiers to using the social media, to conducting multiple surveys to find out favourable constituencies and issues that would click with the voters to reaching the targeted voter through the mass media and advertising, nothing is left uncovered. Unlike other parties, it does not leave out the constituencies that it can’t win. It either brings the incumbent elected representative to its fold or wins over the next best person from the dominant party there to make him or her the candidate. Communities, castes, past history of the constituency are minutely studied. The most important aspect is that everybody in the party follows the command of the persons appointed to handle the elections unlike Congress where people like Gurudas Kamat and Narayan Rane started making their differences public even before the campaign began. The difference in the attitude of the BJP and other parties towards the election was clearly visible. The only exception was the Shiv Sena in Mumbai and Thane. As such, it reflected in the outcome of the polls.
With the results of the mini-assembly on his side, Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is firmly in the saddle. Since Sharad Pawar of 1990s, no chief minister of Maharashtra has been so powerful and in control of the political situation. He is in complete control of the government and has become politically successful by showing that he can win elections. He now poses a serious danger to the Opposition. Unless some major controversy happens, he will continue in his position and lead the party in next assembly elections in Maharashtra. The BJP’s victory in the February 21 elections has given it confidence for next two and a half years leading to the assembly elections.
Little wonder the opposition parties are now regrouping and wondering how to counter the BJP and Fadnavis. This is sharp contrast to 2014 when Fadnavis was appointed. Then several leaders in the Opposition thought he would be a drawing room politician with little knowledge of election management. Fadnavis has proved them wrong. The mini-assembly election has now set the tone for the major battle of 2019.