If the Opposition parties in Maharashtra were under the impression that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would not be able to sustain its winning ways of 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, Monday’s poll result must have served as a rude awakening for them.
The elections were held for representatives on 147 local bodies. Simultaneously, the voters also elected presidents of these civic bodies directly. As many as 52 presidents that won the elections are from the BJP. The Shiv Sena came in distant second with 24, followed by Congress (22). The picture is not clear in case of elected representatives since the elections were contested in the name of different local fronts with different combinations of political parties. It will be clearer as more details are available on Tuesday.
Still, it appears that the BJP is leading followed by the Congress. In a nutshell, the BJP seems to have emerged on top. Though majority of the civic bodies it won are from its stronghold of Vidarbha, the party also registered victories in various parts across the state. It means it maintained its hold in the areas where it made inroads during the 2014 elections.
The elections were held for 147 civic bodies governing small cities across Maharashtra. These can be called semi-urban areas which are urban in nature but are also under the influence of rural economy. Many of these cities are actually market places for agriculture based rural economy of the area. The elections were being held in the backdrop of Maratha community’s statewide agitations and more recently, the Modi government’s decision on demonetization.
There were arguments on how 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 combination of both. Often the political parties and experts insist that the civic polls contested on local issues. If majority of these 147 civic bodies were with the Congress-NCP and they have lost many of those, we can use the above logic and draw inference that people were not happy with the way the two parties were running the local bodies. So, in any case, the outcome of the elections will surely force the opposition parties to introspect what went wrong.
The Opposition Congress has alleged that the BJP used various resources to win the elections. In terms of realpolitik, this means the BJP handled election management well—something which Congress-NCP too were doing when they were in power.
The outcome comes as a shot in the arm for Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who led from the front. It will also establish his reputation as a leader who can handle election management well. His detractors in the party have been contending that Fadnavis is more a drawing room politician who would not understand the complexities of ground level election management. Monday’s result gives the Fadnavis camp reasons to celebrate.
Nevertheless, the local election battle has just begun. The election to 147 municipal councils was the first phase of local polls. This will be followed with elections to municipal councils and zilla parishads (district councils that govern entire district) and later by elections to civic bodies in major cities such as Mumbai, Pune,Thane and Nashik. The entire exercise—being described as mini-assembly polls since the three phases will be covering entire state—would be a test of Fadnavis led government’s popularity among the people 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 hoping that the cash crunch caused by demonetization and the dire state of cooperative network would come to their advantage. The two parties contested separately but may now be forced to come together. If that happens, the BJP and the Sena who are at loggerheads may decide to join hands.
Fadnavis and Co has won the round one. Two major rounds are ahead and the contest is becoming more interesting.