THE skill to sense “electoral merit,” was until now considered to be Congress’s speciality. The recent elections in Maharashtra show that BJP has mastered the art to outsmart not only India’s GOP — but all of the Opposition. The BJP, for the recent elections, had a two-pronged strategy. Fight wherever it is strong. And, wherever it isn’t, import whoever is strong.
It has worked to remarkable effect — the party has bagged eight of the 10 municipal corporations where elections were held.
Take the case of Pune, for example.
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There, more than half of BJP’s elected corporators are either from the NCP, Congress or Shiv Sena. In Pune, it was the NCP and Congress that ruled for over a decade. Once a fiefdom of Congress’s Suresh Kalmadi, it later became a strong bastion of the NCP, especially of Ajit Pawar. For over a year, the BJP selectively wooed many lieutenants of Pawar Jr including one of the most maligned, an all-party-experienced toll-contractor. Throwing all talk about probity and transparency to the poll wind, the said contractor was handed over the responsibility to “manage” Maharashtra’s cultural capital.
The result is that BJP recorded a historic win in Pune, thanks to a large number of leaders borrowed from all parties.
Ditto is the case in neighbouring Pimpri Chinchwad. Here, the BJP handed over the reins of its party to a former NCP strongman who brought in the saffron fold many Ajit Pawar loyalists.
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Similar is the story in Nashik where Raj Thackeray-led MNS was ruling for last five years. The younger Thackeray had no chance of continuing this run, largely due to his party’s inept and lacklustre handling of governance. Here, too, ahead of elections, the BJP gobbled up almost the entire city unit of the MNS — and pocketed Nashik.
The story in Ulhasnagar, another mega city bordering Mumbai, too, is the same.
Here, the BJP showed little inhibition joining hands with local muscleman Pappu Kalani. Interestingly, it was this notorious gangster who was at the centre of BJP’s campaign against criminalisation of politics in early ‘90s. The BJP’s late Gopinath Munde had then accused Maharashtra’s former chief minister Sharad Pawar of shielding Kalani. In the current election, the gangster-turned-politician was BJPs accomplice. Result: BJP along with Kalani clan will rule the city.
Of the eight municipal victories, BJP had a strong chance only in two: Nagpur and Akola.
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The former is home to the RSS headquarters and two BJP veterans Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari. The BJP has retained the municipal body.
Akola, too, is in the same Vidarbha region where the BJP has a strong presence. Apart from these two, BJP has won in Amravati thanks again to another Congress-NCP veteran who was inducted into the party.
The defining story of this local-body election is in Mumbai where it was in power with Shiv Sena for over 25 years. This is the city the BJP always wanted to rule but couldn’t because of the Sena. Here, divorce was always on the cards.
This election offered a perfect timing for the BJP to test its mettle in the megalopolis. The gamble worked to an extent that BJP has shown a nearly 300% growth. It had three distinct advantages over the Sena. One, the people of Mumbai were tired of the Sena’s childish politics; two, the city has witnessed a huge influx of north Indians which are not sympathetic to Sena and the last is chief minister’s Devendra Fadnavis’s own image.
All three were set to work in favour of the BJP which for the last two years has undertaken various mega infrastructure projects in Mumbai. So there was something on the ground for the BJP to showcase vis-a-vis the Sena’s personality-driven, largely empty, politics.
Banking on Fadnavis’s image, BJP at the right time opened up the debate on corruption in the Rs 40,000-crore municipal corporation. By taking on Sena head on, the BJP has emerged as a serious option to the Sena. However, it wasn’t strong enough to overtake it. Largely because the Sena still has a fairly robust party mechanism on the ground and BJP is far from building it. So is the case in Thane, where the Sena maintained its hold.
The election throws another important story. That the largest portion of the state’s political space now is with the BJP. It has also made major inroads in Zilla Parishads where it had not so much of a presence. And that Congress’s decimation continues while NCP stays on road to become irrelevant.
The BJP reminds political observers of the Congress of the ‘80s. Totally focused just on one point: electoral success.
And just as the Congress couldn’t care less about the means as long as it achieves its end, the BJP today shows the same traits.
It’s safe to say, that one big signal from Maharashtra is that BJP could be the New Congress.