It has been almost six months since the BJP-led government came to power, and already it will face its first electoral test in April. The state election commission on Monday declared elections in the NCP-ruled Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation and the Shiv Sena-BJP-ruled Aurangabad Municipal Corporation. The elections will be held on April 22. This is in addition to the April 11 by-election in the Bandra (East) Assembly constituency, where the Sena will have to fend off its bête noir Narayan Rane from the Congress.
This will be the first popularity test for the BJP-led government, since it came to power.
Two by-elections have been held in state. In the Mukhad Assembly constituency, late BJP MLA Govindrao Rathod’s son Tushar won and on the Beed Parliamentary seat, Gopinath Munde’s daughter Pritam was elected after his death. But the results were a foregone conclusion owing to the sympathy wave.
The three elections in April could be significant because winning them would mean the BJP-Sena’s honeymoon period is still not over. However, their defeat would give a boost to the opposition parties, who are desperate to make a comeback after a crushing defeat in last year’s Assembly elections.
In Aurangabad, for now it seems the Sena, which has been in power for over two decades, will be fighting the Congress, while the NCP in Navi Mumbai will lock horns with the BJP and the Sena. But in time, battle lines will be drawn and new equations may emerge. Another option: All four major parties will go in their own directions leading to a four-cornered contest.
In Navi Mumbai, NCP leader Ganesh Naik has ruled over the civic body for 15 years. However, he may fight it tough to maintain his citadel this time, after losing the recent Assembly elections to BJP’s Mandra Mhatre. The ruling party is now planning to capitalise on its Assembly victory. The Sena and Congress, too, are determined to fight Naik, who has been sidelining them for years.
In Aurangabad, the Sena is ruling for the fifth term, and is hoping for a sixth. Despite having a sizeable Muslim population, the Sena has always won because of the votes get polarised on communal lines. They have yet again pushed their demand to rename Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar, (after Maratha warrior king Shivaji’s elder son Sambhaji). The Congress will take the contest seriously because its new state chief Ashok Chavan is from the region. It will have to fight a formidable opponent in the form of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (MIM), which won an Assembly seat in Aurangabad. It is also not clear whether the BJP will ally with the Sena or will go solo because its state unit chief Raosaheb Danve is also from Marathwada. If the BJP prefers to contest alone, the Sena will find it tough to retain a hold over the Aurangabad civic body.
The most interesting fight to watch out for will be in Bandra (East) where the Sena will have to fight Rane. The constituency consists of large section of Maharashtrians, people from the Konkan as well as minority voters, which means the battle could be close. Rane is hopeful of winning minority votes as well as a majority of Konkan votes because he is from that region. With the Congress, BJP and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) sitting this one out, and with Rane trying to coax the MIM to stay out, this will be one battle to watch out for.