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Why civic poll results spell bad news for Opposition in Maharashtra

The results also showed how the main opposition parties, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), are yet to figure out ways to gain the confidence of the voters in cities.

mumbai Updated: Aug 07, 2018 00:18 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
NCP Leader Sharad Pawar with Congress party leader Mallikarjun Kharge.(HT PHOTO)

The results of civic polls in Sangli in western Maharashtra and Jalgaon in north Maharashtra have once again shown that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is capable of winning over the urban voter. The results also showed how the main opposition parties, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), are yet to figure out ways to gain the confidence of the voters in cities.

The BJP wrested power in Sangli — once considered a Congress stronghold — even though the Congress and the NCP had forged an alliance there. In Jalgaon, the party single-handedly dominated the civic polls by decimating local strongman Suresh Jain who had aligned with the Shiv Sena. Congress-NCP drew a blank in this second largest city of north Maharashtra.

Since 2015, the BJP has won 14 civic bodies and has won a significant number of seats in Mumbai, Kalyan-Dombivli, Aurangabad and Thane.

There are 27 civic corporations in the state. Polls were held for 25 since 2015. Of them, the BJP now has power in 14. The Sena is in power in four. The two ruling parties rule two of these bodies, Kalyan-Dombivli and Aurangabad, in the alliance. The Congress rules four and one in an alliance with the NCP. The NCP is in power in Navi Mumbai.

No other party has been so successful in establishing political control over the cities in such a short period in the recent past. The significance of the BJP’s surge in civic bodies can be gauged from the fact that the cities in which they have a strong presence come under 14 to 15 Lok Sabha constituencies and 90 to 100 assembly constituencies.

In Mumbai metropolitan region (MMR), it has won three civic bodies on its own and emerged as a second largest party in Mumbai, Thane and Kalyan-Dombivli. The MMR alone has ten Lok Sabha seats and about 60 assembly constituencies.

In western Maharashtra, it has won the civic bodies of Pune, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Solapur and now Sangli. This is the region where both Congress and NCP are hoping to revive their fortunes. In north Maharashtra, it has control over Nashik and Jalgaon civic bodies. In Vidarbha, it controls almost all major civic bodies: Nagpur, Amravati, Akola, Chandrapur.

While the Opposition parties have been accusing the BJP of using resources and misusing power, what they are ignoring is the way the BJP is fighting elections: It has been using the reach of the media and social media effectively to connect with the voters, is has been using Brand Modi and plank of development to ensure support of the desired segments and it has been planning well in advance — something that is seen rarely in the Opposition camps in Maharashtra.

Well ahead of the civic elections, it puts in place a team to handle the city, it gets the surveys done, decides its strategy and does everything to win the targeted seats (even if that means poaching on the locally strong people from rival parties). The party leadership also ensures there would be no division within its ranks due to factionalism. Often it also gets the advantage of RSS’ network.

Since 2015, it is seen that the BJP takes the civic polls very seriously. Winning majority of these bodies consolidated the gains it made during the Modi wave by winning assembly and Lok Sabha seats where it rarely had a presence. It also created an atmosphere that the BJP is becoming the main political party in the state. This will be a factor when the party makes its bid to retain its seats in next Lok Sabha and assembly elections.

The BJP leaders know that the next Lok Sabha and assembly elections won’t be easy for them. This is why they have considered the electoral battles in local polls as a rehearsal of the war of 2019. And while the party is testing its well-oiled election machinery, is the Opposition equipped to counter it? If the current elections — held in the backdrop of several controversies and the Maratha agitation — are an indication, things are not looking good for the Opposition parties. They have a lot of work to do.

First Published: Aug 07, 2018 00:11 IST