It isn’t just the civic polls in Mumbai and other cities that political parties are busy preparing for, as plans are being made to win mandate even in rural Maharashtra. Beginning October, elections will be held for 26 zilla parishads (ZP), or district councils, which look after local governance in rural areas across the five regions of Maharashtra. The state election commission on Friday started the procedure to conduct the elections.
While the NCP and the Congress rule majority of the ZPs in the state, the ruling BJP is planning to increase its strength at the rural level. The outcome of the ZP elections will show whether the party has succeeded in establishing itself in rural Maharashtra.
Earlier this year, the BJP government presented the annual budget, which focused on rural areas and farmers.
The party top brass in the state is of the opinion that the government has handled the drought situation well and water conservation initiatives such as Jalyukta Shivar Yojna — which has the backing of chief minister Devendra Fadnavis — will convince people in rural Maharashtra that BJP is capable of looking after their interests.
Realising that the strength of Congress, NCP is the cooperative sector, the ruling party has also strategically used corruption cases to weaken the opposition’s hold over cooperation banks and sugar factories. It also amended the law (Maharashtra State Coop Societies Act) to debar politicians from occupying office of the cooperative banks for ten years if any cases of irregularities took place during their tenure as directors. This has put several Congress, NCP leaders in a tight spot.
Further, the BJP government has also checked the influence of district cooperative banks that play important role in financing agriculture. “The BJP has strengthened the reach of nationalised banks in rural areas. This year, the nationalised banks’ share in crop loan disbursed to farmers in Maharashtra is Rs22,168 crore against district banks’ Rs13,114 crore. This will divert the farmers from the district cooperative banks, which are mostly under control of NCP and Congress,” said a senior government official.
BJP’s ally, the Shiv Sena, too, is preparing for the ZP elections, although traditionally it is seen as an urban party.
“Even Shiv Sena has been systematically spreading its wings in rural Maharashtra and using issues of farmers and common man by launching parallel scheme for water conservation and extending helping hands to the families of the farmers that committed suicides in Marathwada,” said Hemant Desai, political analyst.
Would it mean the BJP and Sena would marginalise the Congress-NCP in the polls? Opinions differ. “On the contrary, NCP and Congress are lackluster in their reach to common man. NCP seems to be in gloom after Chhagan Bhujbal’s arrest and possible inquiries against their two other leaders, Ajit Pawar and Sunil Tatkare, in irrigation scams. Both the parties failed to even raise the issues of farmers, including drought…” said Desai.
Political analyst Prakash Bal expressed doubts over the rural reach of the BJP. “In many parts of the state, the party does not have any base,” he said.
Knowing well that the mini Assembly elections, could give them the much-needed boost to launch their campaign to win back power in the 2019 Assembly polls, the Congress and NCP, too, have started preparations. Top leaders from both parties have been touring the state, especially drought-affected areas, to highlight issues and galvanise the party cadre. The two parties are also exploring possibility of an alliance to avoid division of votes and improve their chances of winning. “We are confident about retaining our top positions in local bodies and also exploring possibility of an alliance with the Congress. The cooperative movement is very strong in the state and cannot be weakened by any such nasty efforts of the government. The cooperative sector is with us,” said NCP spokesman Nawab Malik.
Civic Body elections to be held in two years
Municipal Corporations ---- 17
Municipal Councils/Nagar Panchayats 229 11
Districts Councils ---- 26
Panchayat Samitis ----- 297
Gram Panchayats 1753 7866
Total 1982 8217
Partywise strength in 10 municipal corporations
Congress - 264
NCP - 265
Shiv Sena - 227
BJP – 205
Partywise strength in 26 district councils
Congress - 438
NCP - 518
Shiv Sena - 241
BJP – 187
Ten corporations facing elections in January- February 2017
Mumbai, Thane, Ulhasnagar, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad, Solapur, Nashik,
Nagpur, Amravati and Akola
Some of the main district councils to go for election between October 2016 and February 2017
Nashik, Jalgaon, Beed, Nanded, Hingoli, Latur, Satara, Sangli among 26 in all.
Reservation of the district council chairman announced on Friday
Of the 34 district councils or Zilla Parishads (ZP), 18 would be headed by women, as per the results of the lottery for reservation by the government on Friday. While Thane, Nandurbar and Gondia councils would be headed by women from scheduled tribes, Nagpur and Hingoli have to be headed by women from scheduled castes. Five councils will be headed by women from other backward class, while 8 are to be headed by the women in open category. 26 ZPs will face election early next year, while four have scheduled elections in 2018.