Victory in Mumbai, Nagpur, Thane a big boost for NDA
Implications of family fued in Sena
By Shyam Khosla
The victory in the municipal elections in Mumbai is a big boost for the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Although the alliance couldn’t get a clear majority in 227-member Brihan Mumbai Municipal Corporation, it comprehensibly defeated the Congress-NPC combine and is set to run with a little help from Independents the cash-rich civic body for the next five years. A big dip in Congress Party’s vote share in Mumbai has shattered Congress Party’s dream of frustrating the saffron alliance’s bid to return to power for the successive fourth term.
The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party did arrive at a seat-sharing arrangement because of the presumption that they lost last civic poll mainly because they had fought separately. That myth stands shattered. The decision to go together couldn’t stop the saffron alliance to win yet another impressive victory. Public mood was against the Congress Party. It would have been a clean sweep for the NDA in Mumbai, Thane and Ulhasnagar but for the opportunistic seat sharing arrangement between the Congress and the NCP and the emergence of the MNS as a big force. The rise of Raj Thackeray whose party captured 28 seats in the Mumbai Corporation as against a mere seven in 2007 elections is one of the biggest upsets in the polls.
RPI (Athawale)’s decision to join hands with the SS-BJP alliance was a bonus for the NDA. The end result shows that support of even marginal parties is crucial in the victory of major parties. Although the Dalit party could win only in one ward in Mumbai, it played no mean role in impacting the results as it made the NDA more acceptable to the deprived sections of the society. There is merit in RPI leader Ramdas Athawale’s complaint that while his supporters voted for the candidates belonging to the BJP and Shiv Sena, there was hardly any quid pro quo from the saffron voters. This grievance can be redressed by the NDA by sharing power with RPI in the Municipal Corporation over and above its strength in the elected body. Interestingly, while the Shiv Sena’s strength in the Corporation came down by 8 seats, BJP increased its strength from 21 to 32. Besides Mumbai, the NDA also retained power in Nagpur, Thane and Ulhasnagar – a clear indication that there was hardly any anti-incumbency factor in these cities.
As for the UPA, it also did well by capturing four of the 10 corporations that went to polls. These are Pune, P’ri-C’wad, Sholapur and Amravati. NPC has again emerged as the dominant party in the first two municipal corporations. The Congress Party will do well to take note of this reality. Unfortunately, for the Congress, its victories in these cities have been over-shadowed by the huge losses in Mumbai where its strength in the Corporation has been cut down to 50 as against 83 in the outgoing corporation. It is a big blow to the party that was riding a high horse claiming that Shiv Sena would be rendered inconsequential after the civic polls. There is no end to excuses for the poor show by the Congress Party. The stark reality, however, is that the Congress is in disarray in the commercial capital of the country what with party divided down the middle and bitter heartburning among influential local leaders over ticket distribution. The party was also on the back-foot because of the popular outrage against massive corruption in the Congress-led Union Government. Unlike in 2009 when Congress party won most parliamentary seats in big cities, there is a clear change in the mood of the urban voters. Further, there was no love lost between the Congress and its ally. Even top leaders of the two parties indulged in mudslinging against each other. Distribution of seats between the two parties left much to be desired. Workers of both the parties felt cheated. Morale was low. A lot of party leaders rebelled and entered the fray as independents or sabotaged the party’s campaign. Civil society’s anti-corruption campaign also seems to have hurt the Congress. Yet another factor was the presence of SP candidates in several constituencies. SP couldn’t win in many wards, but it did hurt the alliance’s prospects by splitting the UPA’s Muslim vote bank.
Overall the picture is not so gloomy for the UPA. Its share in the 10 Municipal Corporations that went to polls recently is 540 seats against 432 for the NDA out of 1244 seats at stake (see chart). All the four major parties did well in their respective strongholds. The Congress secured 273 seats and the NCP bagged 262. The Shiv Sena scored victories in 226 wards while the BJP was closely behind with 206 seats. MNS that was a marginal party in 2007, managed to win 112 seats – a little less than half the strength of Shiv Sena. Further, the UPA is better placed than the NDA in rural areas as reflected in the Zila Parishad elections in which UPA got 985 seats against 450 captured by NDA. NCP topped the list with 526 seats, followed by the Congress 459 in Zila Parishad polls. Shiv Sena got 255 seats and its ally the BJP secured 195 seats. Although NCP is a part of the ruling UPA at the Centre, relations between the two parties are not harmonious. NCP is aggrieved that its Ministers in the Central Government are unreasonably blamed for Government’s failures. Congress party’s arrogance is irritating many in the NCP. This should be a cause of worry for the Congress but it doesn’t seem to be focused on taking along its alliance partner. Perhaps it is too sure of Rahul Gandhi leading the party to victory on its own in the next parliamentary elections due in 2014.
BJP is on upswing in Maharashtra and is only marginally behind the Shiv Sena. It has improved its strength in eight of 10 corporations and has won more seats than its ally – Shiv Sena – in four corporations namely Pune, Nagpur, Sholapur and Akola. The party will have to evolve a strategy to consolidate and expand its vote base in urban as well as rural areas if it were to emerge as the leading party in the state. As for the Shiv Sena, its major challenge is to resolve the family feud. Raj Thackeray’s rise in Mumbai, Pune and Nasik – cities where it won more seats than the parent party – is cause of worry for the Shiv Sena. NMS is no longer a Mumbai based minor irritant. It has emerged as a powerful rival to the parent party and may scuttle the growth of SS. BJP as the lead party in the NDA at the national level needs to take a serious note of the development and must try to reconcile differences within the Thackeray family, if it is serious about consolidating and expanding the support base of the alliance in Maharashtra.