The year 2017 will witness a flurry of political activities with elections to 10 civic bodies and 26 district councils or zilla parishads (ZP) being held in first few months. These elections will have an impact on political equations in the state and could set the course for the 2019 Assembly polls. What the year 2017 means for prominent political parties in Maharashtra?
Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP): 2016 saw the BJP settling in the role of the ruling party. It put up an impressive show in the first three phases of civic polls in smaller cities. However, the remaining ones in 2017 will be more significant — they will show whether the BJP is still popular in major cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur. Elections to ZPs play an important role in rural politics and have largely been a bastion of Congress-NCP, will show what rural Maharashtra thinks about the BJP.
*Politician to watch — Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis: Firmly in the saddle, he emerged as a politician on top in 2016. A good show by the BJP in 2017 would mean he would remain chief minister and will be likely to lead the party in the 2019 Assembly polls.
Congress: It was the biggest loser in 2014. The last year gave the Congress a flicker of hope for revival in Maharashtra. It lost some ground in civic polls in smaller cities but managed to retain a significant chunk of it. It will now try to retain control over a number of ZPs since it always had strong rural base in the state. It does not have a major share of power in civic bodies in governing cities like Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur but would aim for some ground.
*Politician to watch—State Congress chief Ashok Chavan: He has tried to revitalise the party organisation. Now, his task is cut out: Winning maximum ZPs and at least a couple of civic bodies to show that the Congress is back in the reckoning. That will help the party to start its campaign to wrest power from the BJP in 2019.
Shiv Sena: In the past two years, it has been playing the role of a partner in power and also an opposition party. In 2016, it was more vocal against the BJP governments than others. It now has to see how people react to its double role. The result of the first three phases was not encouraging for it and it now faces the tough task of retaining the source of its power and influence—the Mumbai civic body which the BJP wants to snatch. It remains to be seen how the Sena retains its Marathi manoos vote bank as well.
*Politician to watch—Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray: In 2016, he was more vocal in his opposition to the BJP and Prime Minister Modi than even Rahul Gandhi. Now, he has to show his ability to retain power in civic bodies of Mumbai and Thane, improve performance in other cities and also win a few ZPs.
Nationalist Congress Party (NCP): The party is neither entirely in the opposition nor completely with the ruling BJP. The irrigation and Maharashtra Sadan scams have eroded its credibility. In the recent civic polls, the party was pushed to third position after the BJP and the Congress. Currently it enjoys power in highest number of ZPs. The Sharad Pawar led party faces tough task of retaining the same.
*Politician to watch--Ajit Pawar: The former deputy chief minister is known for his organizing skills and election management. He will have to retain power in his bastion—Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad — opposite a determined BJP. An impressive show in these cities and ZPs will also put him in a pole position in the party.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS): The party that won power in Nashik and won sizeable seats in Pune five years ago is being seen as a weak competitor now. It was completely decimated in 2014 and many of its leaders migrated to other parties in last two years. This year could be its last chance to make a comeback as a serious player in state politics.
*Politician to watch—MNS chief Raj Thackeray: He still has an ability to draw crowds. He failed to build party organisations. Post the 2014 polls, there was vacuum for a credible opposition party in the state but he could not fill it. Will he make a comeback now?