Ritesh K Srivastava
The overwhelming victory of the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in the prestigious municipal polls in Mumbai and adjoining Thane is a big setback for the ruling Congress. Billed as mini Assembly elections, the fiercely contested civic polls saw the Shiv Sena-led alliance regaining control of the country’s richest civic body and the Sena rebel Raj Thackeray’s MNS consolidating its position as an independent force in Maharashtra. The astonishing results of the civic polls have compelled the Congress strategists to introspect as to what went wrong amidst concerns that it may have a bearing on the ongoing Assembly polls in five states.
The biggest worry for the Congress leadership at the moment is the fear whether the debacle in BMC polls is an indication of the changing mood of urban India. The state has a large urban landscape, and the failure in urban civic bodies could harm its prospects in future elections, especially if it was a fallout of the civil society’s campaign against Congress.
The party did not do well even in the rural areas, where it’s not-so-dependable ally NCP doing exceptionally good in zila parishad polls. NCP bagged 525 of the total 1,639 seats while Congress secured 457. BJP got 198 seats. In the panchayat samiti polls, NCP got 1,026 of the total 3,252 seats. Congress bagged 866, BJP 404 and Shiv Sena 497 seats.
Another area of concern for the Congress would be its failure to gain from Raj Thackeray’s fierce campaigning against the saffron combine. Although, the poll outcome is troubling, some Congress leaders have sought to downplay it by saying that Maharashtra has always shown a preference for local outfits in civic polls.
The electoral drubbing has put a lot of pressure on the gentleman Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who staked his reputation on the local civic elections. The Congress-NCP alliance engineered by him failed to end Shiv Sena’s 17-years of uninterrupted rule of the cash-rich body. This was the first major political initiative by Chavan since he took over as CM, and had he succeeded, it would have established his political leadership in the state.
The CM campaigned extensively through the state, addressing ward-level meetings but his calculation that the Congress-NCP alliance could weaken the Shiv Sena, which derives its economic power from the BMC, proved fatally wrong.
Though known for his integrity, his grasp of complex issues and despite enjoying the confidence of both Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, Chavan will now have to tread cautiously in Maharashtra. The results are unlikely to impact his position as CM, but necessitate urgent measures to stop corrosion in party’s vote bank.
Thane-Mumbai accounts for a big chunk of Assembly seats. The Congress swept Mumbai in LS because of Raj Thackeray`s MNS cutting into Sena votes. This time, Shiv Sena won in BMC polls despite a good performance by the MNS. This has triggered concerns that Raj Thackeray’s fledgling outfit has begun to cut into the Congress vote bank too.
Shiv Sena-BJP (the saffron alliance)
The civic polls have given a fresh lease of life to both Shiv Sena and its 87-year-old founder Balasaheb Thackerey, and most importantly his political heir Uddhav, under whose leadership the party managed to survive a surmounting anti-incumbency factor and a stiff challenge from the MNS. The victory of Shiv Sena, BJP in Mumbai and Thane has also strengthened the saffron alliance, which emerged as the biggest bloc in the two crucial civic bodies.
Days ahead of the municipal elections in Maharashtra, Uddhav Thackrey had indicated that development would be Shiv Sena’s main poll plank suggesting a 180-degree turn from its earlier stance of migrant-bashing. The suave leader gave a clear message that Shiv Sena would rather focus on progress and development than aggressively playing the Maratha card, (an idea hijacked by his estranged cousin and MNS chief Raj).
Although Shiv Sena leadership was unconvinced in the beginning as it thought that the party’s strength lay in identity politics, it gave up fighting on the streets and relied on Uddhav’s development mantra. Just before municipal elections, state’s Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan also revealed his ambitious overtone by saying that a ‘communal’ Shiv Sena will be wiped out of Mumbai after the civic elections. Clearly, a lot was at stake for the Shiv Sena executive president, who chose to tread a different path.
Contrary to the popular belief, both Shiv Sena and MNS stunned Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress in the fiercely contested elections to the 10 civic bodies across the state.
While Balasaheb’s party won a do-or-die battle for political survival and regained control over the Mumbai and Thane municipal bodies, his estranged nephew Raj Thackeray’s MNS did substantially well in the Mumbai, Thane, Pune and Nashik municipal corporations.
The overwhelming victory of the Shiv Sena-led alliance is also an indication of people’s changing perception of Uddhav from a failed leader to someone capable of carrying forward his charismatic father’s legacy.
Besides Mumbai, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, probably the tallest Maratha leader today, faced humiliation in Pune where his party failed to secure an absolute majority in the Rs 3,000 crore- civic body despite best efforts
The NCP, which is a close ally of Congress in the state and the centre, contested the civic polls in Pune alone and even targeted the disgraced Congress MP Suresh Kalmadi over his involvement in the CWG scam. The NCP leadership tried to woo voters by promising corruption-free governance and a speedy development of the city, including the metro rail ‘in five years’. However, its strategy failed to impress the voters in Pune.
The performance of the Congress-NCP alliance in the BMC polls was also disappointing compared to the 2007 polls. As against 85 seats in the 2007 polls (Congress-71, NCP-14), the alliance just managed to win only 67 seats this time. It was the MNS which jumped appreciably from just 7 seats in 2007 to 27 this time around.
The NCP also suffered a loss of face as Pune Mayor Mohansingh Rajpal, former standing committee chief Nilesh Nikam and the influential Bopodi corporator Srikant Patil were among those who lost their seats. While Rajpal and Nikam lost their seats to the BJP, Patil was defeated by the MNS city chief, Prakash Dhore. The saving grace for the NCP was its majority in the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation – as in the previous two terms.
After its overwhelming success in Mumbai, Thane, Nashik and Pune Municipal Corporations, Raj Thackeray’s MNS has emerged as a viable alternative in Maharashtra politics. Under Raj Thackeray’s leadership, the party managed to win seats in double-digits in all the four civic bodies, and thus improved its tally in 2007 civic polls.
In Mumbai, the party won 28 seats, 21 more than last time. In Pune, the party won 29 seats, 21 more than what it had won in the 2007 civic polls. In its biggest victory in Nasik, the MNS emerged as the single largest party with 40 seats out of 122, improving its chances of being in power at the Nashik Municipal Corporation. Congress here won 15 seats, NCP 20, Shiv Sena 19, BJP 14, CPM 3, while independents won 11 seats.
Although, there are talks of MNS joining hands with the BJP to get hold of the municipal corporation here, Raj has ruled out any alliance with the NCP either in Nasik or in Pune even if it were mutually benefiting for both the parties. In his first reaction after the civic poll results was announced, the MNS chief said he was not power hungry and that he will take a decision after a careful analysis of all aspects.
The leader of this six-year old party is keeping his cards close to his chest and is yet to make it clear whether MNS would support the SS-BJP in the crucial mayoral elections. MNS has clearly come a long way since its inception in 2006, and after its considerable victory in the civic polls, the party would now focus on consolidating its position vis-à-vis the General Elections in 2014.
Raj Thackeray, who is clearly a dark horse in Maharashtra politics will surely analyze the results at a micro-level, and may not hesitate to make organizational changes to ensure that mistakes are not repeated.
Whatever one says, the outcome of the civic polls is an eye opener for all major political stake holders in Maharshtra. Although, the political equation more or less remains balanced in the state, no dramatic changes should be expected from the civic establishment in terms of policies and programmes. Irrespective of which party gets hold of various civic bodies in the state, the focus must essentially remain on improving the civic administration, infrastructure, providing basic facilities and an improved transportation system. The key players must make optimum use of the new energy and enthusiasm – failing to do so will only result in their loyal voters drifting away from the party.