Maha civic polls campaign ends, spotlight on Sena-BJP fight

19 Feb 2017

The gruelling campaign for civic polls in Mumbai and nine other cities across Maharashtra ended this evening, with the BJP Shiv Sena rift casting a shadow over the stability of the Devendra Fadnavis government. Dubbed as a mini Assembly election, over 1.94 crore voters across the state are entitled to exercise their franchise to choose representatives for 10 city corporations on February 21. On the same day 11 Zilla Parishads will go to the polls in the second phase. The first phase of the polls in 15 Zilla Parishads was held on February 16. The electioneering assumed an unusually shrill pitch in the final phases largely due to the acrimony between BJP and Shiv Sena, fighting the civic polls separately for the first time in over two decades, though Congress, NCP and MNS are also in the fray. Allegations and counter-allegations flew thick all through the run-up for the election, which has virtually turned into a battle of prestige for Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, heading the state's first BJP-led government, and Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who led the front from their respective camps. Congress, plagued by infighting in Mumbai, appears to have failed to take advantage of the BJP-Sena rift, according to political observers. The big poll focus is on cash-rich Brhihanmumbai Municipal Cooperation (BMC), retaining control of which is vital for Shiv Sena as the city has remained its prime political space ever since the party's formation in 1966. Shiv Sena has been in power in BMC for over two decades. BJP, which had been a junior partner of Sena before it gained the upper hand through the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls, declined to accept the number of seats offered by the Sena. It has set its eyes on gaining power in BMC, one of the world's largest city bodies, boasting of an annual budget of over Rs 37,000 crore. In the political cacophony, larger civic issues like good roads, uninterrupted water supply and other basic amenities which the common man looks for, have largely drowned, the observers feel. Midway through the campaign, Thackeray put the Fadnavis government on "notice period", a threat which failed to deter the BJP from pushing ahead with its no-holds-barred assault on the estranged ally, mustering its full organisational strength. The Sena chief, however, appears to have softened his stance later, saying the support to the government would depend upon what it would do for the distressed farmers, even as he ruled out post-poll pact with BJP in Mumbai.  Watching the saffron battle gleefully from the sidelines, NCP chief Sharad Pawar has ruled out extending support to the BJP government in the event of Sena pulling the plug, saying his party would rather prefer mid-term polls. Justifying the outside support extended to the BJP after 2014, Pawar said it was necessary to avoid fresh polls then, but the state could now go for mid-term elections. Congress, plagued by infighting, has failed to put up a united fight. Party veteran Gurudas Kamat had slammed the city party boss Sanjay Nirupam over his "style of functioning" and failure to take along all sections. Rare for a chief minister in local body polls, Fadnavis has criss-crossed the state spearheading the campaign since a convincing victory for his party is not only crucial for its future in the state but also to get grassroot endorsement of the Centre's policies. In village and town panchayat polls held in November- January, BJP had put up a sterling performance in all regions of the sprawling state, and the party projected it as vindication of demonetisation move by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Congress and NCP, which are also going solo, have refused to be swayed by the Sena-BJP wrangling, dubbing it as a "political bluff game" and dared Thackeray to withdraw support to the Fadnavis cabinet. Rejecting the suggestions that the BJP has turned the civic polls into an opportunity to wreck Shiv Sena, its leaders asserted their battle is for transparency in the civic administration. Sena, however, mocked the claim, saying the state and Central governments are lacking transparency and even targeted Fadnavis alleging that his stint as Mayor of his hometown Nagpur years back was not corruption-free, a charge BJP rejected as far from truth. While Sena posters in Mumbai highlighted its "achievements" as "karun dakhavla" (we have done what we promised), BJP's campaign revolves around Fadnavis, who asks voters to trust his "word" in developing Mumbai ('Swachh, sunder Mumbai, ha majha shabd aahe')  With the local body polls assuming serious political dimensions, all parties roped in their central leaders to woo the voters. Besides Mumbai, the other municipal corporations going to polls are Thane, Nagpur, Nashik, Pune, Amravati, Akola, Pimpri-Chinchwad, Ulhasnagar and Solapur. In Mumbai, a staggering 2,275 candidates are in the fray for 227 seats. In adjoining Thane, 805 candidates are vying for 131 seats in the municipal corporation. Thane city has total 12.30 lakh eligible voters. Besides civic corporations and zilla parishads, 118 panchayat samitis will also go to polls on Tuesday.(PTI)