Maharashtra holds local body elections, stakes high for all parties involved

Chief Minister Fadnavis has held dozens of rallies across Mumbai and other parts of the state without a break in the past two weeks, trading jibes with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at every opportunity and from every stage. (Image credit: Flickr) Photograph:( Others )

DNA Mumbai, Maharashtra, India Feb 21, 2017, 04.16 AM (IST)

By Kanchan Srivastava

The fate of all the political parties involved and 17,000 plus candidates will be decided on Tuesday as 10 big cities and several districts across Maharashtra conduct local body elections, which are being considered mini-Assembly polls. The results will be announced on February 23.

The multi-cornered fight, involving four major political parties, has made this contest all the more curious. A handful of votes could be a game-changer for all the stakeholders.

Though the stakes are high for all the parties, they are most crucial for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for several reasons.

Incidentally, it is not just the reins of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) that have been made a "prestige issue" by the BJP post its break-up with the Shiv Sena. Indeed, the fate of the Fadnavis government itself hangs in the balance. With 122 MLAs, the BJP government is surviving with the support of Shiv Sena in the 288-member House. To get rid of this dependence, the BJP badly needs to expand its base across the state before the next Assembly polls, which is two-and-a-half years away.

Perhaps that is why Fadnavis carefully made the election campaign personality-driven, pitting himself against Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray.

Fadnavis has held dozens of rallies across Mumbai and other parts of the state without a break in the past two weeks, trading jibes with the Sena chief at every opportunity and from every stage.

While Thackeray is yet to join Twitter, Fadnavis has extensively used it in these elections by propagating his poll plank "Transparency in BMC" and taking pot-shots at the Sena. "Civic elections were never so high-profile in Maharashtra," admits political analyst Prof Sudha Mohan of Mumbai University.

Deliberate or not, Fadnavis' stand of leading the civic body elections from the front has made the contest look like a fight between the two "allies-cum-foes", where other players are sidelined. 

The pollsters believe Fadnavis' aggressive campaign might work in Mumbai where BJP relies heavily on migrant population from Gujarat and northern states. His series of campaigns might also help the BJP retain Nagpur, Amravati and Akola corporations. However, demonetisation and farmer issues might haunt Fadnavis in rest of Maharashtra, analysts say.

Relying on Fadnavis' campaign and clean image, BJP is confident of winning six out of 10 corporations, including Mumbai, Nashik and Pune, and two-third of the Zilla Parishad where elections held last week.

For its part, Shiv Sena has led a positive campaign projecting its good work in Mumbai and Thane corporations. It hopes to come back in both the civic bodies and expects to expand its base in some of the Zilla Parishads.

To achieve the target, the party has shed its old image of being a hardline party and sought to become a 'secular' one.

Sena started campaign when other parties were still figuring out their strategy. However, the Economic Survey Report, which ranked the BMC as number 1 civic body in India in transparency, came as a morale booster for the party.

The Opposition Congress and the NCP are fighting to retain whatever base they have in Mumbai, Pune and other parts of the state. Congress had 52 seats and NCP 14 in the outgoing BMC house, but infighting in Congress and lack of good leaders in the NCP might dent their base further, say observers.

Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam rejects the pollsters and claim, "Congress would surprise everyone in Mumbai when results are out."

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik also claims that NCP will retain two corporations —Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad — and would emerge as the largest in Akola. "NCP will win most of the Zilla Parishads too. People are fed up with Fadnavis' lies and inefficiency," he said.

According to political pundits, the MNS, Samajwadi Party and MIM, are unlikely to put up a good performance because of the polarisation of votes among four major parties.

(This report first appeared in DNA)