Mumbai

NCP, BJP gear up for civic polls in Pune

Ajit Pawar

Ajit Pawar   | Photo Credit: Emmanual Yogini

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Congress, Sena busy chalking out revival plans

With polls to the cash-rich Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad civic bodies slated for 2022, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are already in combat mode.

In contrast, the Congress, with its rickety organisational structure, and the Shiv Sena, with its crumbling base, are yet to get their act together in Pune. On Tuesday, State Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat convened a meeting of all district presidents of the party in Mumbai to chart out a strategy for the polls. A section of the party leadership in Pune is calling for the appointment of a senior leader to oversee rebuilding of its base in Pune and western Maharashtra.

“With the Pune Cantonment polls due in a couple of months, the appointment of an observer, exclusively devoted to galvanising the party cadre in Pune district, will help prepare the Congress for the civic polls. The booth being a vital point of focus, the observer should ideally be a leader with ‘micro-level’ experience who can revitalise the Congress in the city. This will help revive the party’s connect between voters at the grassroots level,” said Pune City Congress general secretary Ramesh Iyer.

Mr. Iyer said in the Assembly polls, the party had a lead of over 2,000 votes in Khadki and Pune Cantonment, which helped rebuild the party’s base in subsequent local body polls. Sources said a leader with organisational experience like Nitin Raut or Vishwajeet Kadam would be preferable, given that the latter is now a Minister of State and has a base in Pune.

Political analysts say given the bickering over portfolio allocation between the Sena, the NCP and the Congress, it is unlikely that there would be a smooth seat sharing process between the three parties. The BJP and the Sena, despite being in an alliance in the State, contested the 2017 civic polls separately. While the Congress and the NCP had patched up at the eleventh hour, they held ‘friendly contests’ on a number of seats — an indicator of the mutual distrust.

Contrasting fortunes

According to a senior Congress leader, the party’s strength in Pune has been steadily deteriorating since the political twilight of Suresh Kalmadi in 2007. In contrast, the NCP’s influence has increased at the State and the civic body levels, with the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) being transformed into a virtual fiefdom of senior NCP leader and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.

However, the BJP’s ascendancy in the State since 2014 and the party’s expansion in western Maharashtra has shaken the NCP’s hold over Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad civic bodies. In 2017, the BJP inflicted a crushing defeat on the NCP, winning both civic bodies and breaking the stranglehold of the party.

Now, the NCP is back in power at the State level. Besides securing plum portfolios, Mr. Pawar has returned as Pune’s Guardian Minister, giving the NCP a strategic edge over the Congress in the district. The party also has two MLAs in Pune city: Chetan Tupe (Hadapsar) and Sunil Tingre (Vadgaon Sheri). The NCP now has more resources to expend on civic and development works and expand their power base.

Senior political analyst Rajendra Pandharpure said, “Mr. Pawar is determined to reclaim the PCMC. Since his appointment as Pune’s Guardian Minister, he has started giving projects like the Pune Metro a push and taken measures to expedite development works. The defeat of his son, Parth Pawar from Maval, still rankles him. So, he is naturally determined to reverse his losses.”

Mr. Pandharpure said in contrast, the Congress had lost the Pune seat to the BJP. “The NCP had left the Pune Lok Sabha seat for the Congress. But its candidate Mohan Joshi was routed by the BJP’s Girish Bapat. So, it is unlikely that the NCP will be too accommodating to their ally during the seat sharing for the civic polls,” he said.

The Sena is in dire straits as the party was not given a single seat in the Assembly elections by its then ally, the BJP. With no MLAs in Pune, the Sena’s base has whittled down over the years.

Mr. Pandharpure, “Given that the State government is still unstable, corporators face uncertainty about their future. The next 18 months will see a flurry of activity at the local level. In all likelihood, we might just see a straight contest between the BJP, which controls the Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad bodies, and the NCP, which is hoping to wrest them from the saffron party.”

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2020 2:35:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/ncp-bjp-gear-up-for-civic-polls-in-pune/article30570478.ece

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