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Some success for either ally,never mind the alliance

Divide shows in Maharashtra civic polls; Cong,NCP do better individually than as a team

Written by Kavitha Iyer | Mumbai |
December 14, 2011 3:12:26 am

In Maharashtra’s muddled politics,if there is one early verdict from the results of elections to 133 municipal councils declared on Monday,it is that the main contest across the state is no longer the Congress-NCP versus the Shiv Sena-BJP. With the main opposition parties in the Assembly finding themselves reduced to bit players in a growing number of municipalities,the more colourful political face-off in Maharashtra is now between the Congress and the NCP,uneasy partners in a government that complains tiresomely about coalition compulsions.

Of the 168 local bodies that went to polls,results were announced on Monday for 133. Polling for the remaining local bodies continues later this month. The NCP has taken control of 47 councils,either on its own or alongside local panels. The Congress tally is 32 for now,while discussions to participate in post-poll alliances continues. The Congress-NCP will together rule a mere seven municipal councils of the 133.

“People voted for the party that they believe will bring progress and prosperity,” Maharashtra PCC chief Manikrao Thakare said on Tuesday,calling the verdict proof of the continuing faith that the people of Maharashtra have posed in the Congress-NCP combine.

But privately,senior Congress leaders admit they are looking closely at the NCP’s superlative performance,trying to draw some lessons from how the party not only appears to have repaired dents that surfaced in its western Maharashtra strongholds following the Assembly elections in 2009 but has also made inroads into areas where it had not enjoyed a traditional presence. These include Vidarbha,a Congress bastion,and northern Maharashtra.

The NCP’s growing strength in urban areas,something that campaigners cutting across party lines noticed and admitted during the run-up to the polls,will give it additional weight in negotiations for alliances for the key municipal corporation elections that will come up early next year.

The Congress,meanwhile,will be doing some navel-gazing on how the NCP’s big-ticket state leaders all took the council elections as opportunity to reinforce their sway over regions,districts or towns — Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar in Pune and Baramati,PWD Minister Chhagan Bhujbal in Nashik,Hasan Mushrif in Kolhapur,to quote some examples — while the biggest embarrassments to the Congress were delivered to no less than Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Industries Minister Narayan Rane.

Some lost chances

“Had it not been for Rane’s extreme posturing,we could have tied up with the NCP in Sindhudurg,” said a senior Congress leader,adding that the NCP had offered them a “reasonable” number of seats in Rane’s home district. But Rane was certain of a landslide victory and insisted not only on going it alone but also on continuing to burn bridges,with Congress old-timers in the district who have been complaining to the party high command against his high-handedness for nearly a year,and with his loyalists who had deserted the Shiv Sena with him but found their careers disintegrating in his care.

Rane remained defiant at a press conference on Tuesday in Nagpur,where he hit out at the NCP for labelling his Sindhudurg district as being under a reign of terror. But undeniably,the results of the three Sindhudurg municipal councils had cut the Konkan strongman to size.

In Vengurla,the NCP won 12 seats out of 17. In Rane’s strongest bastion of Malvan,the Congress managed to win 8 while the NCP got 6 and the Shiv Sena 2. The latter two parties are currently wooing the kingmaker solitary independent — if he joins them,the Congress would have lost Malvan too. The biggest embarrassment,almost a slap in the face,was in Sawantwadi where the NCP took all 17 seats. To add insult to injury,this was the one Sindhudurg council where the Chief Minister himself campaigned,at Rane’s insistence.

While Chavan’s own hometown of Karad in Satara was lost to a local front backed by an Independent legislator who supports the NCP,the chief minister will find his discomfiture doubled by the Sawantwadi debacle.

Some Congress leaders attempted to assign the NCP’s performance to the newly introduced prabhag system,where a voter can cast his votes for four wards in the prabhag and local influence alone is not enough for a candidate to win. “If a ward is dominated by a caste and therefore went to a party,now voters in three adjoining wards were voting for that ward and in a sense affecting the voting pattern,” said one senior Congress leader.

The fine print of the electoral system notwithstanding,the Congress will anyway have to do some introspection on the accountability of senior leaders and ministers assigned the task of building the party’s base in their home districts. When minister Harshvardhan Patil was handed charge of Pune district,the Congress expected to at least offer a spirited resistance in NCP’s strongholds.

But eventually,Patil’s men only managed to hold on to his hometown,Indapur Municipal Council,by the skin of their teeth while Ajit Pawar ensured a near clean sweep for the NCP in Baramati while retaining the party’s control over other councils in the region with the exception of Junnar,where the NCP lost control to the Shiv Sena. Kurdvadi Municipal Council,which falls in Sharad Pawar’s Lok Sabha constituency of Madha,was the other significant loss for the NCP.

Also,when the chief minister welcomed former NCP rebel-turned independent MP Sadashivrao Mandlik into the Congress fold in October this year,the party expected that the parliamentarian would help repeat the upset he had caused the NCP. But Mandlik’s hometown municipality Murgud too was picked up by the NCP,which through alliances with local fronts will dominate most of Kolhapur’s municipalities.

The Congress expects its tally to improve — its best strongholds of Latur,parts of Nanded,Ahmednagar and Osmanabad will poll this week. But if the NCP’s improved all-round showing in Vidarbha and Marathwada are anything to go by,the final verdict will send the Congress urgently back to party-building.

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