Nanded is the home constituency of the Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan, and the Congress party has held uninterrupted sway over the Nanded-Waghela Municipal Corporation for nearly two decades. The BJP, which has had, until recently, only a marginal presence in the former Nizam-ruled district, has witnessed its corporator strength in the Nanded municipality dwindle over the course of four previous elections. It has, in fact, notched up its best ever performance in the city, with six corporators, in the elections held last week. On the other hand, the Congress, confident of winning and even improving its 2012 tally of 41 corporators, was no doubt pleasantly surprised at the extent of its sweep — 73 of the 81-member corporation. This, and the Gurdaspur bypoll victory immediately afterwards, has led local leaders to declare that the Nanded result is symptomatic of a shift in the popular mood despite counter claims by the BJP that its growth continues unabated, including in recent polls to gram panchayats.
But two wins don’t constitute a tectonic shift, or even a trend. If anything, the Nanded outcome offers a series of lessons for the Congress, a list of to-do items, if it has to emerge as a credible alternative in subsequent elections elsewhere. While this is one of the few regions where the party still has a strong cadre of foot soldiers, the poll managers also ensured a certain clarity of leadership, vision, agenda and strategy. It addressed the minorities with a low-key campaign on specific local issues relevant to them. The Congress also benefited from the disorganisation and turmoil within the other Opposition parties. A number of sitting All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) corporators moved to the Congress, most of them retained their seats. It was in Nanded in 2012 that the Asaduddin Owaisi-led party burst on to the political scene in the state, winning 11 seats. It failed to win a single seat this time, its internal struggles to establish a state-level leadership, internal processes and structures, apparent. The NCP, which has recently suffered a series of electoral setbacks, did not win a single seat either, going from seven corporators to zero. Clearly, the anti-BJP vote could be consolidated, and the Congress leadership was paying attention to the task. In addition, the party reached out to small traders, daily wagers and others affected by demonetisation, by the introduction of GST and recent job losses.
The Nanded outcome is also a cautionary note against hubris in the BJP, which completes three years in power in Maharashtra later this month and may want to use the occasion to introspect and self-assess. It was enunciated by the Shiv Sena, which has taken upon itself the role of the BJP’s chief opponent. It wrote of Nanded’s portent in party mouthpiece Saamana, calling the result a sign to political parties and voters that the BJP can be defeated.