A significant victory

There could not have been a clearer mandate in the 2017 civic polls in Maharashtra. Except for Thane, where the Shiv Sena managed a comfortable victory, and Mumbai, where it squeaked ahead of the BJP by two seats, the BJP won every city corporation easily. Of the 1,268 municipal seats, the party won 628, more than tripling its 2012 tally. There could not be a better affirmation of support for the party in power at the State as well as its Chief Minister, who staked his political reputation on the polls. Besides fielding competitive candidates in places where the party had a strong base, the BJP’s strategy to woo viable contestants from other parties in places where it was weak yielded strong returns. The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party were reduced to minor players in most of the corporations. In Mumbai, the Shiv Sena has, for the first time since it came to power nearly 25 years ago, seen a close competitor in the BJP; there is now a chance that the mayor could be elected from outside the Sena. While the Marathi-dominated areas of the city helped the regionalist party consolidate support, its reduced win ratio, of only 37% of the seats contested as opposed to over 50% in previous civic polls, suggests that it can no longer count Mumbai as an undisputed stronghold. The politics of regional identity and patronage may have helped the Sena become the single largest party in India’s richest municipal corporation. But its reduced win ratio is a reflection of its dismal performance in ensuring civic works, with sanitation, infrastructure, public health and education in poor shape in the city.

The BJP will be content with its strong performance, which has followed civic poll victories in Chandigarh and Madhya Pradesh and in some Legislative Council elections in Uttar Pradesh. This may not reflect a popular endorsement of the demonetisation move, as its supporters argue, but at the very least it suggests that ‘notebandi’ is highly unlikely to hurt the BJP’s prospects in the ongoing Assembly elections. It is impossible to not contrast the BJP’s success with the performance of the Congress in the recent civic polls. Clearly, the BJP has become the central pole of Indian politics, a position the Congress occupied for a long time. This is not only due to the BJP-run Central government’s record. The party has an able corps of regional leaders, Devendra Fadnavis and Shivraj Singh Chouhan among them, which allows for it to compete effectively at the regional level. The Congress, on the other hand, seems lacking not just in a strategy to regain national relevance but also in its ability to revive itself regionally due to the absence of a cache of regional leaders.

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Printable version | Mar 5, 2021 7:07:52 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-significant-victory/article17362681.ece

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