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Mumbai civic poll: What it means for BJP, others

The first civic elections after 25 years to be fought independently by the BJP and the Shiv Sena, has seen BJP fall short in the Mumbai metropolis by just 3 seats.

It won 82, out of the 227 seat Bombay Municipal Corporation (BMC).

The BJP has also scored decisive wins in the hinterland of Maharashtra, and thrown the question of which formation can control the BMC independently into considerable confusion. Congress has 31, others have 24, and MNS scored with 7 seats.

Either BJP or Shiv Sena will need 30 seats, or more, and this near impossibility, given the options, may thrust them, once again, willy-nilly, into each other’s arms.

Shiv Sena, despite a strenuous bid to go it alone and win a majority, has struggled to barely keep a nose ahead, at 84, in the end. It has just retained its title as the single largest party in the Mumbai BMC, but is well short of the majority mark at 114.

The BJP nearly trebled its tally, up to 82 from 32 in 2012.

The BMC, with a budget of some Rs 40,000 crore, the largest in the country, is viewed as a prestigious prize.

But retaining control of it, despite very patchy governance marked by allegations of corruption over its last term, is a matter of its very survival for the Shiv Sena. This, given that it has no footprint at all outside Maharashtra.

And yet, it is evidently in no position to do much except share power and decision-making once again. In fact, it is considerably weakened in comparison to its position in 2012.

The widely perceived to be Marathi manoos party has also managed to top out and hold on in adjoining Thane.

But its grip on a demographic that is rapidly changing to contain almost as many people from North India, Gujarat, and elsewhere, as it has Marathi speaking natives, is definitely slipping.

In the hinterland, the municipalities of Pune (last with Sharad Pawar’s NCP), Nashik (last with  Raj Thackeray’s MNS), and Nagpur (its own last time too), went outright to the BJP.

Pune, a large industrial and urban hub, another prize in particular, has moved out of Sharad Pawar’s grasp.

Raj Thackeray is ostensibly barely hanging on in the power equation of Maharashtra, but might get a  second wind if there is horse trading involved shortly.

These other municipality wins in the partially rural interiors, serviced largely by cooperative banks, were meant to have been hard hit by demonetisation. That they have voted solidly for BJP proves that the public there appear to be in support of the move.

This contradicts the negative rhetoric put out on the matter by the Shiv Sena, Congress, and others.

The generally routed Congress in the other municipal contests, despite its very different political positioning, could conceivably play a part in the post-BMC election scenario. It does have the next largest block of 31 seats, and has been making enthusiastic congratulatory noises in favour of Shiv Sena.

If the BJP and Shiv Sena stick together however, recent acrimony will need to be forgotten in favour of the bigger cause. This, of course, is no big impediment in Indian raj niti , or indeed politics anywhere. Nitish Kumar and the JD(U) in Bihar, something of a band of prodigal sons, will probably endorse this position too.

It might however leave the voters of Mumbai frustrated, because it was the self-same Shiv Sena/BJP combine, albeit with very many more seats in favour of the Shiv Sena, that ran the municipality very badly for the last five years.

Pot-holes likened to craters, and flooding, in the absence of adequate drainage/the destruction of mangrove swamps etc. poses serious risks every single monsoon. These two grouses are amongst a host of other shortcomings that make the richest municipality in the country amongst the poorest in terms of delivery.

And this in a city that has impossibly high real estate rates and massive over-crowding. If BJP/Shiv Sena do get together again, they will have to do much better this time.

The Devendra Phadnavis led BJP government in Maharashtra, with grudging Shiv Sena support, has evidently consolidated its hold after the results of these civic polls.

These results make it even more difficult for the Shiv Sena to withdraw support, particularly with the NCP still waiting in the wings to make up the difference.

That it has come to this between the ostensibly uneasy allies, both at the state and centre, does not affect BJP as much as it does the Shiv Sena.

The saffron regional party, that has been unable to spread outside Maharashtra, appears to be in decline.

The Maharashtra municipal elections and its apparent endorsement of demonetisation also augurs well for similarly profiled urban and rural interior assembly seats in the ongoing elections in Uttar Pradesh, conducting its fourth phase simultaneously.

BJP has, from all reports, a very good chance of winning a majority in Uttar Pradesh, and some of the other smaller states presently.

If it does win in the 403 seat Uttar Pradesh Assembly, come the results on March 11th, it will be able to considerably improve its numbers in the Rajya Sabha, and be in a much better position to pass legislation preparatory to the general elections in 2019.

The favourable “semi-final”, it is thought, will harbinger the outcome of the final.

A broader point, in the backdrop of both Maharashtra and Uttar Pradesh, and indeed the ongoing tussles in Tamil Nadu and lesser problems in other states, such as Bengal, Orissa, Karnataka and Delhi, is that the regional parties, and not just the Congress shrunk to likewise size and stature, seem to be self-destructing.

This happening simultaneously in different parts of the country,  is entirely to a resurgent BJP’s advantage.

The SP internal feud is a case in point. The AIADMK in the aftermath of the death of J.Jayalalithaa, is another.

How the centrifugal and centripetal forces in the regional parties will multiply, particularly without the oxygen of power going forward, is something we will have to wait for in order to see.

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