Even as Mumbai goes to the polls on February 16, battles are being fought with equal vigour in nine other municipal corporations across the state. In many of these cities, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party, who are partners in the state government and have forged an alliance in Mumbai, are going to fight it out with each other.
Just recently, the two parities fought the zilla parishad and municipal council polls independently.
While in Mumbai, Thane, Nagpur and Ulhasnagar, the parties have joined hands, the scene is very different in Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Solapur and Amravati, where the two parties are engaged in a serious power battle and are involved in much mud-slinging.
The civic polls are also critical because they will help all the major political parties understand their popularity and strengths and weaknesses in the major urban areas of the state ahead of 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections.
The poll results will also determine the political worth and the future of several senior party leaders.
Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan has campaigned with equal zeal both in cities where there is an alliance between the two parties as well as in places where the Congress is locked in a bitter war with the NCP.
These municipal corporation polls are a litmus test for the Congress CM who has been riding high on his clean image.
Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who calls the shots in the state NCP, Congress’ suspended MP Suresh Kalmadi (both in Pune), Bharatiya Janata Party’s national president Nitin Gadkari (in Nagpur), Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray (in Pune and Nashik ) and President Pratibha Patil’s son Rajendra Shekhawat (in Amravati) all have a lot at stake in these civic polls. As do Union minister and Congressman Sushilkumar Shinde and NCP boss Sharad Pawar who will have a face-off in Solapur.
Chavan offers an explanation for the city-specific alliance with the NCP. “Though we are together in the state government, either of the two parties has been ruling these cities, so we are pitted against each other. Other parties have no significance there,” he told Hindustan Times last week.
Senior NCP leaders endorse his view.
It’s where the Shiv Sena and the BJP have stronger presence that the Congress and the NCP have stuck together. Like Mumbai, in Nagpur and Nashik, where the saffron alliance has been in power for a long time, the two parties are jointly seeking votes to oust the current rulers.
In central Vidarbha’s Amravati, Shekhawat faces a challenge by rebels from the Congress and the BJP – Sunil Deshmukh and Jagdish Gupta respectively.
In Nagpur, Gadkari has held several rallies to help the BJP ensure yet another successful innings in the second capital of the state.