The civic body elections will be crucial for the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as it fights to retain its last bastion in urban Maharashtra through the municipal corporations of Pune (PMC) and Pimpri-Chinchwad (PCMC).
Having lost power at the Centre and state in 2014, the Sharad Pawar-led party is in a make-or-break situation to maintain hold over the two civic bodies that have a total budget of Rs 9,200 crore.
Besides PMC and PCMC, the NCP rules Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation although the control lies with Ganesh Naik, the local leader, while the party shares power in three smaller civic bodies as minor partner.
Controlled single-handedly by party president’s nephew and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, the Pune corporation came to NCP in 2007 after the election results delivered fractured mandate.
At neighbouring Pimpri-Chinchwad, the NCP has been in power for the past 15 years under Pawar junior’s command.
But BJP, which has won all the eight assembly seats from the city, is leaving no stone unturned to wrest PMC from NCP in the upcoming polls. This was evident from the inauguration of major projects such as Pune Metro rail and Smart City, for which the party is trying to claim credit.
What has made matters difficult for NCP is its old guard switching loyalties to BJP. Among the prominent faces, senior NCP leader Karne Guruji, who was also standing committee chief, and Azam Pansare, an old associate of Pawars from Pimpri-Chinchwad, joined the saffron party.
Their entry into BJP comes after two MLAs and Ajit Pawar associates, Laxman Jagtap and Mahesh Landge became CM Devendra Fadnavis’s loyalists. The recent entries into BJP have given BJP an edge in the industrial town where it had only three corporators in 2012.
Well aware of the odds stacked against his party, Ajit Pawar is making maximum efforts in the twin cities trying to ensure that NCP retains power at PMC and PCMC. Ajit, along with his uncle, is attending every small event to boost the morale of party workers. In his attempt to contain the damage, he has managed to get seven Congress corporators on his side.
“Like every election, I am taking this fight too seriously. After all, big or small, I have never underestimated any rival,” said Ajit Pawar at a recent press conference.
The NCP leader has also expressed his willingness for an alliance with Congress though no deal has been signed so far.
On one hand, as NCP fights one of the fiercest battles, other parties including Congress, MNS and Shiv Sena are battling with leadership issues at local level.
While Suresh Kalamadi’s expulsion has created major leadership void in Congress at local level, several corporators have exited MNS in the last few days leaving the party leaderless in Pune.