The outcome of the recently held civil polls in Navi Mumbai, Ambarnath, Badlapur and the nerve center of Marathwada — Aurangabad — is not very encouraging for the Bharatiya Janata Party as well as the Congress, as both failed to improve their positions.
The Shiv Sena, on the other hand, surged ahead, retained its hold over Aurangabad, Badlapur, and Ambarnath and made some gains in Navi Mumbai. The Sharad Pawar led Nationalist Congress Party, through its regional satrap, Ganesh Naik, could retain its hold over the sprawling city of New Mumbai where a new airport is being planned. It was a welcome surprise for NCP as Ganesh Naik had lost his assembly seat to his bête noire, Manda Mhatre, who had contested on a BJP ticket.
The Congress, despite all its efforts during the civic polls, is yet to recover from its stunning defeat suffered during the last assembly elections. What seems to be worrying the party is that this sense of despair is not just Maharashtra specific but afflicts the party units in other states as well.
The Congress has lost its two strong vote banks over the years. The Muslims, who used to support the Congress in the state for several decades, have distanced themselves from the party. The process of alienation has been slow but started after the demolition of Babari Masjid followed by communal riots in Mumbai and other parts of the state. Since
then, the Mumbai metropolis has been the main target of terrorism across the border and resulted in frantic search for sleeping cells set up by these terrorist outfits. These indiscriminate searches as well as arrests of suspected youths from the minority community led to its large scale alienation from the Congress.
Ironically, the NCP, which had appointed its handpicked leaders as home ministers, has not suffered so much in this battle of perception; rather, the Congress party is facing the ire of the community. The NCP, in fact, never had any support among the minority community despite efforts to cultivate the Mudlims by the party over the years.
MPCC president and former chief minister Ashok Chavan is a seasoned leader under whose leadership the party won elections in 2009. However, his influence has eroded as he was languishing on he sidelines due to court cases in the Adarsh housing scam. The Congress, nonetheless, won the municipal council in Bhokar in Nanded district, which happens to be Chavan’s hometown.
Factionalism also has not receded within the party despite a miserable performance in the state assembly elections. The party has a good reason to worry as it won just 10 seats each in Aurangabad and Navi Mumbai. The party is also concerned over the loss of the Dalit vote bank. This is because Hindu Dalits have shifted their allegiance to the Shiv Sena and partially to the BJP. With Ramdas Athawale and Arjun Dangle siding with the Mahauti, Ambedkarites also deserted the Congress as well as the NCP. The Bharatiya Republican Party (Prakash Ambedkar) remained neutral, joining the third front led by the left parties and thus belying all hopes of the Congress to replace Athawale with Prakash Ambedkar. A similar trend continued in the civic polls as well, as the smaller parties preferred to remain attached with the Mahauti rather than side with the Congress-NCP, which fought separately.
The results of the civic polls are also disappointing for the Bharatiya Janata Party. Despite herculean efforts on the part of the state BJP, in Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation, the party could only secure six out of 111 seats. The BJP lost Badlapur and Ambarnath elections to the Shiv Sena. The state BJP leaders wanted to go on their own and contest the civic polls but chief minister Devendra Fadnavis persuaded them to have an alliance with the Sena in Navi Mumbai and Aurangabad. There appears to be some discord between the party and the BJP led government as Fadnavis is yet to establish his political leadership. The hardliners within the BJP cadres are more concerned about the Sena becoming number one rather than attacking the Congress and the NCP. But for Fadnavis, the rift between the BJP and the Sena would have widened further. It is time the party bosses sit together and take stock of the situation and devise strategies to consolidate gains of the state assembly elections.
The Owaisi brother led All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul Muslimeen (AIMIM) lost its ground in the by-elections held for the Bandra Assembly seat. However, it staged a comeback in the civic polls. The AIMIM has emerged as a strong opposition party in the Aurangabad Municipal Corporation by winning 25 out of the 113 seats. The campaign in Aurangabad, which has a history of communal riots, was deeply polarised. In the process, the Congress and the NCP suffered heavily. The MIM had made its presence felt in Maharashtra in 2012 when it won 11 of the 81 seats in Nanded Municipal Corporation elections. Now the party is gearing up to contest the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation elections scheduled in 2017.
The Muslim votes are now split between the MIM, the Samajwadi Party and the Congress.The Congress leaders are nursing the hope that the Muslim voters will return once they realise that support to either the MIM or the SP will result in the squandering of the secular vote and thereby help the saffron parties. However, the process may take time and would be linked with the disenchantment with the ruling parties in Maharashtra as well as Delhi.
Now all the parties would be preparing for the coming civic poll in the BMC scheduled in 2017. The Sena and the BJP are saying that they would both contest together but the Sena may have second thought and hawks within the party would like to contest separately due to its performance in Aurangabad, Navi Mumbai and the Ambarnath Municipal Corporation. However, the demography in cosmopolitan Mumbai is different and the party may find it difficult to dominate all the wards in the city. Both the saffron parties know that if they contest separately, they would
be dividing the saffron votes, which will benefit the Congress the most. The NCP does not have much presence in the city and would like to play second fiddle to the Congress if they decide to join hands for the BMC elections.
The Raj Thackeray led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena will also be in the fray and Sena would be worried about its impact on the outcome as MNS would be eating into its Marathi speaking vote bank. The BMC elections will decide who will eventually rule Mumbai city.