Fragmented opposition aids lotus bloom in Maharashtra (News Analysis)

Mumbai, Feb 24 (IANS) After the outcome of elections to 10 major civic bodies, including the country’s biggest and richest, the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation, the Maharashtra political landscape now resembles one huge lake full of blooming lotuses — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) symbol.

The BJP showed huge appetite for success as it gulped down one civic body after the other, in some cases uprooting incumbents entrenched for the past three or four decades, and stunning allies and the opposition alike.

The heavy BJP charge was barely reined in by the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, but was arrested by Thane voters, enabling the Sena’s “Bow-Arrow” to hit at least one bull’s eye, giving it control over the Thane Municipal Corporation.

Thus, the two publicly-warring partners succeeded in a clean saffron sweep of a state that was, for long, a stronghold of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine.

As the defeated parties returned to lick their wounds and muse over their virtual mass annihilation, the reasons were not too difficult to fathom.

For starters, there was the sheer high-profile campaign undertaken by the BJP, starting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and state party President Raosaheb Danve, and aided by several Union ministers, all BJP ministers in the state, MPs, MLAs and party workers.

The party carried out a well-orchestrated campaign harping on its development agenda, the positive impact of demonetisation and the need for single-party rule at all levels of governance, from panchayats to parliament.

The BJP also threw the doors open for defections from other parties and, depending on vote-catching abilities, gave them party tickets and were not disappointed by the outcome.

The Shiv Sena also managed a shrill anti-BJP campaign, but solely by its President Uddhav Thackeray, who was advised by a band of loyalists, yet barely comparable to its ally in the state and Centre.

On the other side, the principal adversary, the Congress presented a sorry, fragmented picture, with ego clashes, dissidence and desertions, which, of course, also affected all other parties, and an inability of party bosses to control local satraps.

Similarly, the other major contender, the NCP, was solely dependent on the Machiavellian machinations of the old Maratha warhorse, Sharad Pawar, and partly those of his family members.

But, far from striking the alarm bells for the opposition, the NCP “Clock” was stuck and timed-out even in its backyard bastions of Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad.

Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which appeared to present a fervent desire to replicate its Nashik achievement in the 2012 civic poll, actually met its Waterloo and was reduced to a single-digit entity there.

Aware of the MNS’ shrinking base, Raj even sent open feelers to cousin Uddhav for an “unconditional alliance”, but was rudely rebuffed by the Shiv Sena leadership.

The Congress and the NCP made appropriate noises but failed to come together till the last minute and fought independently, and also against each other, all over the state — and the BJP reaped a rich harvest of the divided votes.

The Congress fate was sealed even before electioneering started when its seniormost leader, AICC General Secretary Gurudas Kamat, threw a sudden tantrum by opposing Mumbai Congress President Sanjay Nirupam’s style of functioning.

Some others, like former Chief Minister Narayan Rane, also joined in but were quickly mollified by state President Ashok Chavan. The “unhappy” brigade relented soon after — but the damage was done, throwing cold water on Nirupam’s passionate attempt to bag around 70 seats for the Congress, banking on Mumbai’s huge north Indian population.

As the combined opposition cacophony hawked their own agenda, Fadnavis’ voice boomed out loud and clear to the voters, closely followed by Uddhav Thackeray’s BJP-bashing.

Surprisingly, the divided opposition failed to exploit much-hyped issues like the ill-effects of demonetisation on the economy, its impact on the rural masses, the alleged efforts to decrease the importance of Mumbai, growing unemployment, problems of farmers, burning civic issues unique to each civic body, and the like.

Amidst all this, certain outstation entities like the Samajwadi Party, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party (both based in Uttar Pradesh) and the Hyderabad (Telangana)-based All India Majlise-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) managed to squeeze in through the opposition cracks.

Capitalising on small pockets of influence, the AIMIM bagged 25 seats, including 10 in Amravati, nine in Solapur, two each in Mumbai and Thane, and one each in Pune and Akola.

The BSP managed to win 19 seats, including 10 in Nagpur, five in Amravati and four in Solapur; while the SP scored a six in Mumbai.

Predictably, the BJP attracted charges of “misuse of government machinery” and “use of money power” et al, but the final tally tells a grim tale to the opposition parties.

A cohesive BJP bagged 628 of the 1,268 seats in the top 10 civic bodies, while all the other parties — including ally Shiv Sena — contesting against it, managed just 615 seats. Twenty-five independents also came through.

(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at q.najmi@ians.in)

–IANS

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