Even as the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is taking media beating and facing uproar of rural and urban population all over, it won the recently held civic elections in two major cities of Maharashtra — Sangli and Jalgaon with handsome margin. This victory has come as a much needed breather for the party in the state and particularly to the state chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, when elections for Lok Sabha and the state Assembly are just a few months away. On the other hand, these elections have left at least two major foes of the BJP — the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Shiv Sena nursing their wounds as both suffered humiliating defeats in these two municipal bodies.
In both the cities, Jalgaon and Sangli, the BJP had not been able to win municipal elections. However, this time the situation changed in 180 degrees. In Jalgaon, the local heavyweight Suresh Dada Jain had proved to be the uncrowned prince for the last 35 years. He is officially a Shiv Sena activist. However, he has been contesting the Jalgaon Municipal Corporation elections under the banner of Khandesh Vikas Aghadi. This time, however, the Jain bastion fell under the severe attack from the BJP brigade led by Girish Mahajan, Fadanvis’s man-Friday. He launched a systematic and frontal attack on Jain and the end result was that the BJP bagged handsome 57 seats out of 75. Even the staunch supporters of the BJP, including Mahajan himself, were not expecting such a mammoth victory.
Show of power
There are many reasons behind this ‘show of power’ by the BJP. Mahajan’s war policies played a heavy dividend here. He concentrated his attack on Jain and levelled serious charges of high-handedness and blatant corruption against Jain and his men in the civic affairs, the amount of which runs into Crores. This trick worked and the man who was till last year considered as the ‘architect of Jalgaon’s future’, became a villain overnight. As Mahajan could isolate Jain from the mainstream, it was easier for the party mechanism to bash him. Shiv Sena, the party that had shielded Jain in his thick and thin during the last two decades, also failed to protect him from the onslaught.
The Congress and the NCP, other major forces in Maharashtra, also remained silent spectators as they knew that any attempt to shield Jain would have boomeranged and they would have lost the prestige in no time. As a result, the field was left open for the BJP in Jalgaon, that opportunity was grabbed by Mahajan and his men with both hands.
Another salient feature of Jalgaon election is that the BJP won the game without taking significant help from another party stalwart Eknath Khadse who has been sulking about the state party leadership since 2014. Here, Fadnavis took the risk and put Mahajan to the forefront. Mahajan lived up to the expectations. He repeated his performance in the nearby Jamner Municipal elections, where he managed to bag all seats. Now, Khadse is left with no choice but to toe Fadnavis’s line or face political wilderness.
In Sangli, the situation was different but the result was the same. Situated in the heart of sugarcane belt and the bastion of Sharad Pawar’s NCP, the BJP conquered the municipal body for the first time with great numbers. BJP had hardly any presence in this district till recently. Apart from being the sugar capital of the state, Sangli is also known to be the city of late Vasantdada Patil. Pawar entrusted the responsibility of Sangli election to his trusted lieutenant Jayant Patil who hails from the same district. Jayant Patil, being the finance minister and a senior leader of the NCP had left no stone unturned to ensure the victory. On the other hand, the BJP did not have leadership to reckon with. However, the BJP pulled the carpet from down under the NCP. The party won 41 out of 78 seats to grab the power. It had not a single member in the last House.
Background of farmers’ unrest
Another significance of Jalgaon and Sangli civic elections is the fact that the BJP has bagged both the civic bodies despite violent agitations of farmers’ unrest. The Sangli farmers have been on forefront in the farmers’ ongoing agitation that included farmers’ strike two months ago, when hundreds of litres of milk were thrown on the streets.
Another handicap for the ruling party was the Maratha agitation. Thousands of Marathas had come on streets repeatedly to press for their demand of reservation in government jobs. Despite the colossal unrest amidst middle and lower-middle class electorate, the BJP has managed the show. This will have its impact on the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections surely.
The moot question is: will Fadnavis be able to retain this atmosphere till the next Lok Sabha polls to be followed by State Assembly elections in quick succession?
Bharat Kumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).