Stirred, not shaken: BJP in urban Maharashtra
With the win in Jalgaon and Maratha stronghold Sangli-Miraj-Kupwad civic bodies, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) continued its electoral victory juggernaut in the state, emerging the face of the urban mandate in Maharashtra, despite the ongoing agitation for reservation that put the BJP-led government on the back foot.
The BJP now has control over 14 of the 27 big cities in the state and has captured most of the state’s urban political space.
The results of the two civic bodies declared on Friday indicate the BJP continues to find acceptability among voters in the face of several agrarian protests and caste agitations that have beset the Fadnavis government this year.
The results are a cause for worry for not just the Opposition, Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), but also the Shiv Sena.
The win in Sangli in western Maharashtra, a traditional bastion of the Congress-NCP, comes even as both the parties struck an alliance for the civic polls to counter the BJP.
The alliance was led by Congress’ legislator and education baron Vishwajeet Kadam, son of former senior Congress leader Patangrao Kadam, and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) state president Jayant Patil. The BJP win here comes as a surprise, especially in the backdrop of the Maratha protests, given the community has a strong presence in Sangli and Miraj. And, it has led to speculation that the aggressive protests could have led to caste polarisation – with Other Backward Classes, Scheduled Castes, Jains and Brahmins – voting in favour of the BJP.
“The caste polarisation owing to Maratha protests is also one of the reasons behind our loss,” said a senior Congress leader, who did not want to be named.
Not all political observers agree with this analysis.
“This new wave of Maratha protests was too fragmented to lead to negative voting. I don’t think Marathas voted en bloc against the BJP. Other castes may have voted in favour of BJP, but we can’t look at this victory through the caste prism. It is also to be seen in the light of anti-incumbency against the Congress that had ruled the civic body for years and perhaps not delivered as much,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.
Both the Congress and NCP blamed BJP’s money power as one of the main reasons for their electoral defeat. The BJP denied this.
“The voters’ list was manipulated in a big way and money power was used by the BJP to wrest Sangli,” alleged NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik.
“We systematically worked to win Sangli and focused solely on the development plank. It helped that the Congress has controlled the civic body for decades, but had done little to improve the civic infrastructure for citizens. The image of our CM worked for the party,” said Neeta Kelkar, BJP’s vice-president and local leader.
The main takeway is that with Sangli, BJP controls four of the five civic bodies in the sugar belt of western Maharashtra, so far controlled by co-operative doyens from the Congress and NCP. Both the Congress and NCP were counting on winning back the lost space in western Maharashtra in 2019, especially in the light of agrarian crisis and the Maratha protests.
These parties will now have to head to the strategy room to re-think these political calculations.
The Jalgaon win has a lesson for the Shiv Sena given the party’s tally fell to 13 in 2018 from 33 in 2013.
“There was no need to give the anchor to Suresh Jain, who is in the twilight of his political career. And, the party should realise that not having an alliance with the BJP will come at a cost in the 2019 polls,” said a BJP leader.
The win in this north Maharashtra city is also a plus for water resources minister Girish Mahajan, who has been caught in a bitter leadership tussle with senior BJP leader and former revenue minister Eknath Khadse over this
With Mahajan, Fadnavis’ aide winning the Jalgaon civic body, so far seen as Khadse’s home turf, the latter now faces a political challenge.
Khadse has been upset with Fadnavis after his ouster from the state cabinet over charges of graft in a land deal in 2016.