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25% vote share, 25% seats: Curious case of BJP's victory in Maharashtra's municipal council polls

Towards the end of November, when results for the first round of civic polls in Maharashtra were about to be announced, the BJP was the most anxious outfit among all political parties. There were sound reasons for this.

Not only was the Modi government’s demonetization move at stake, but so was the competency of state chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, who had personally supervised the entire campaign, holding rally after rally to counter the Opposition’s propaganda amid fire from alliance partner Shiv Sena.

Hence, it was not surprising when Fadnavis declared the first round win as the people’s “mandate” for demonetization. The party stands as the clear winner in the semi-urban and rural parts of Maharashtra as the results of the fourth and concluding round were announced on Monday night. The party won over 1,190 seats out of 4,704 in the municipal council polls across the state, an almost 200% rise when compared to the previous polls.

Party leaders can pat themselves for this and also for pushing their alliance partner Shiv Sena much behind. Yet, the party’s performance is far from encouraging. As the figures suggest, even after putting in all their energy, the ruling party, which played all its card carefully, managed to win just 25% of the seats. With 942 seats (20%), Congress is not far behind. Out of 191 posts for president of municipal councils, directly elected for the first time, the BJP won 71, which is nearly 37%.

As per the party’s own statistics, its vote share is roughly 25%, which is the highest among all parties but not something to boast of, say analysts. The State Election Commission is yet to release the official figures on vote share.

Smaller parties like BSP, MNS and the independents have won close to 20% seats. Their vote share was not immediately available.

The four-six corner fight seems to have gone in BJP’s favour, with winning margin in several places being less than 50 votes. The party doubled its base in the Vidarbha region, from where Fadnavis and certain other heavy-weight ministers hail. It has also gained in western Maharashtra and Konkan region to some extent and made inroads in a few districts it had no presence in.

“While the BJP reaped some benefits in the Vidarbha, its traditional stronghold, Congress and NCP have regained the Marathwada region they had lost to farmers parties in last few years. So, there is a drastic change in terms of political landscape, though BJP has gained to some extent because of being in power,” says Surendra Jondhale, a political commentator.

Rivals Congress and NCP allege that the BJP’s success was due to black money. “Old scrapped notes were distributed to get votes,” Congress’ Mumbai unit chief Sanjay Nirupam and NCP spokesman Nawab Malik alleged.

BJP has vehemently refuted such allegations and instead credited the victory to organisational skills, leadership and good governance at the Centre and the state.

When asked about the dismal vote share of the party in the municipal council polls, and the logic behind projecting the same as the mandate for demonetization, a senior BJP leader requesting anonymity claimed, “Unlike Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha polls, winning margins are very low in civic polls, sometimes as small as 5-10 votes. Hence, vote share can’t be used to arrive at such a conclusion.”

(Source: State Election Commission and political parties)

With base widened, BJP may go solo in next polls

The Shiv Sena is now desperate for a pre-poll alliance with the BJP ahead of the upcoming municipal corporation polls, which include the crucial cities of Mumbai and Thane. But with just a month left for the polls, BJP leaders remain tight-lipped over the matter. Due to a strained relationship with the Sena and its own good performance in the recently concluded civic polls, the BJP may decide to go solo, say insiders.