There’s a lot at stake for political parties and their senior leaders when Mumbai and nine other municipal corporations, 27 zilla parishads and 309 panchayat samitis go to polls next month.
The sheer scale of the polls, to be held on February 7 (zilla parishad and pachayat samitis) and February 16 (civic corporations) makes it akin to small-scale Assembly polls. Barring a few districts, the elections will cover all areas in the state that the Assembly’s 288 seats occupy.
The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won the maximum seats in the 195 towns where municipal council elections were held last month, followed closely by the Congress. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who led the NCP to victory, will have to prove his mettle again.
The Congress-NCP victory surprised many, coming at a time when Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption agitation was at its peak. The parties contested separately, except at 15 places, and now, both expect to repeat the show in Mumbai.
“The recent victory has boosted the morale of the Congress and the NCP, but the expectation that they will win handsomely again will have senior leaders worried,” said Surendra Jondhale, political commentator.
Jondhale said chief minister Prithviraj Chavan would benefit the most if the Congress manages to end the Shiv Sena’s rule in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation. “It will help Chavan complete his term as CM.”
For the saffron combine, these polls offer the opportunity to bounce back after the defeat in the 2009 state elections. A win in Mumbai and Pune will help the alliance build the tempo for the 2014 Assembly polls. Losing would mean a further dip in morale of the party cadre.
Sanjay Dutt, Congress general secretary, said the party was upbeat. “The recent verdict showed that people are with the Congress and NCP,” he said.
Vinod Tawde, Opposition leader in the Legislative Council, said they are confident of winning in many places, “especially Pune, Nagpur and Nashik”.
The Maharashtra Navnirman Sena leader Raj Thackeray is expected to be a game-changer in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik. “It will be interesting to see which party benefits from the MNS factor,” said Jondhale.
Raj’s cousin Uddhav wants to retain Mumbai as the Sena depends heavily on the BMC for financial support.