The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continued its winning streak in Maharashtra in the local municipal council polls governing small cities and semi-urban areas, on Monday -- two years after it won the state Assembly in 2014. These councils were so far considered to be the bastion of the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
According to the data available till Monday evening, the BJP won 890 seats of the 3,510 seats in the 147 municipal councils, besides getting 52 of its candidates directly elected as municipal council presidents. The jump from a poor third with 298 seats in the previous elections in 2011 to numero uno has surprised political observers.
It was expected the party may get short end of the stick in these elections as the poll campaign coincided with the demonetisation decision of the Centre, which has created more difficulties in semi-urban and rural areas with co-operative banks not being able to hand out requisite cash to people.
The victory, a feather in the cap of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, is a boost to the BJP, as it heads into the phase two of the mini-Assembly polls in Maharashtra, with elections to 10 civic corporations and 26 zilla parishads due early next year.
The victory also points to the party’s increasing footprint in rurban areas, to use the BJP’s word for aspirational semi-urban towns in predominantly rural regions, which had been in the control of the Opposition through a network of co-operative institutions. The party won big dividends in Vidarbha and north Maharashtra besides doing well in western Maharashtra.
So, what worked for the ruling party?
For starters, the CM’s strategic decision to re-introduce directly elected municipal council presidents helped the BJP connect with voters. Fadnavis also campaigned extensively across the municipal councils, focussing on development and Centre’s several schemes, along with the fight against black money. The Congress and NCP’s failure to contest polls together also gave a heads up to the BJP.
“The decision to have directly elected municipal presidents is in line with the government’s plans to have regional development authorities across the state to draw development plans. An independent municipal council president can work better for smaller councils. We knew it would appeal to voters’ aspirations for a better living and help us politically,” said a senior BJP leader.
The BJP believes despite the hardships, the idea of fighting black money and punishing the rich has appealed to the poor and the middle classes. “It shows the co-operative sector is no longer a dominant force. Also, having a political party in the Centre, state and local body has an appeal for people. But, it remains to be seen if demonetisation has worked in favour of the party,” said Prakash Bal, a political analyst.