Local Polls Place Fadnavis in Command, But Not Without Challenges
NEW DELHI: The recently concluded civic polls in 10 Municipal Corporations, 25 Zilla Parishads and Gram Panchayats in Maharashtra have given a big boost to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
It has made impressive gains in 8 out of 10 MCs, though it lagged behind by only two seats 82 in Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to Shiv Sena's 84 seats.
The win of BJP in Pune, Pimpri-Chichwad, Nasik, Solapur, Nagpur, Amravati, Akola and Ulhasnagar shows that it has made sufficient inroads in both urban and rural Maharashtra at the cost of declining clout of Congress and NCP (Nationalist Congress Party).The anti incumbency factor which prevailed before the state elections in 2014 continues to hurt these parties which ruled the state for fifteen years from 1999 to 2014. Prime Minister Narendra Modi's decision of demonetization of high currency notes has made a positive impact on the party’s fortunes in these polls.
The defeat of NCP in Pune and adjoining Pimpri-Chinchwad corporations is a big blow to the image of Sharad Pawar, president of NCP and his protegee Ajit Pawar. The NCP ruled these corporations as its fiefdom for ten years. The NCP's senior leader and member of Lok Sabha Supriya Sule is reported to have said, ''the party would need to introspect, as to why it lost.''
Out of 1514 seats in Zilla Parishad, BJP has gained 370 seats, NCP has gained 317 seats, Congress has won 277 seats, SS has managed to to gain 240 seats and independent candidates have bagged 127 seats.
The results are certainly an image makeover for the BJP which in the last two decades rode on the shoulders of the Shiv Sena for a foothold among the masses. Bitterness has not receded and SS remains reluctant to jointly administer the state in an atmosphere of political amity.
The SS continues to poke Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis with the threat of deserting his government and forming a third front, but so far has not acted on it.
Out of 39 ministers in the coalition, Sena has 12 ministers in the state cabinet and a lone minister Ananat Gite is holding the charge of the ministry of Heavy Industries in the Central Cabinet.
In the past two decades Maharashtra had two Brahmin CMs, Manohar Joshi of Shiv Sena and Fadnavis of BJP. However, the strings of state politics were always pulled by the dominant Maratha caste for more than four decades. Marathas in the cabinet of Fadnavis are not a very happy lot. But, in the past two and half years, he has silenced his Maratha rivals Eknath Khadse and Raosaheb Danve. Thus no revolt is likely to occur in the foreseeable future. His campaign of transparency and fight against the corruption has won him the trust of the voters.
BJP,SS, Congress and NCP contested polls separately and against each other. Each of them claimed that the party would get a majority on its own. This may not have hurt BJP and Shiv Sena, but, certainly damaged Congress and NCP in all four regions of the state.
To recover the lost ground and with a view to keep out BJP or Sena from gaining control of administration in Zilla Parishads, the Congress and NCP have joined hands to retain power in about 14 ZPs and hope to form coalitions in Nasik, Sangli, Solapur, Hingoli, Yawatmal ZPs.
While, SS has emerged as the single largest party in BMC, it has failed to reach the half way mark of 114 seats, (total strength 227 seats). Initially, Shiv Sena tried to woo the Congress. But, opinion within the party on the issue of support is sharply divided. One leader said, ''How can Congress support SS, when all these years it is accusing Sena of communalism and parochialism?''
Reports also indicate that secret parleys are on between the top leadership of BJP and SS to join hands to rule the cash rich BMC. In his meeting with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Delhi on March 1, Fadnavis was advised not to strain relations with the SS, which may pave way for post-poll rapprochement where each party shares the post of Mayor for a period of two and half years.
A close analysis shows that the momentum gained in 2014 continues to benefit Fadnavis. His astute steering of the government, despite intermittent threats by SS Chief Uddhav Thackeray has enabled him to give working stability to the government and follow pro-people policies without much hindrance.Fadnavis recently remarked that his government would last its 'full term.'
Surprise winner in these grass route elections is of course, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), party led by Lok Sabha MP Asauddin Owaisi. It won two seats in the BMC and 5 seats in the Solapur Municipal Corporation. On the other hand, the dismal show by the Maharashtra Nav Nirman Sena may force its chief Raj Thackeray to rebuild his party from the scratch.
Prior to the polls, Sharad Pawar was advocating mid-term polls in the state and recently even dared SS to withdraw support, assuring that NCP would not bail out the government as it did in 2014. Will SS fall into the trap? Pawar’s closeness to Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the one hand, and opposition to Chief Minister Fadnavis on the other, is looked upon as a two pronged strategy to keep both guessing and keep the state government on tenterhooks. Will he succeed? Only time will tell.
(Vijay Naik is Consulting Editor, Sakal papers)