IN A boost for the BJP and its ally Shinde Sena, the two parties claimed 299 of the 547 sarpanch posts in this week’s panchayat elections, across 17 districts of Maharashtra. Of these, the BJP alone won 259.
The first electoral test for the coalition following the toppling of the Maha Vikas Aghadi government came as a disappointment for the Uddhav Thackeray-led Sena, which is caught in a tussle with the Shinde faction over control of the party.
It got 40 posts, which was much as the fledgling Shinde faction, but put it behind both the NCP, with more than 130 sarpanch posts, and the Congress, with close to 80. The Maha Vikas Aghadi together managed to get 250 sarpanch posts, less than the BJP on its own.
As the BJP and NCP both celebrate their performance, the Uddhav Sena has been arguing that the results should be seen in the context of the entire MVA, which finished almost at par with the BJP-Shinde Sena.
However, few are buying that argument.
MVA leaders admitted that the results indicate that “the big battle ahead will be between the BJP and NCP”. “The Uddhav Sena would likely play second fiddle to the NCP in successive elections in Maharashtra,” they said.
Pushed on the defensive over the pullout of the Vedanta-Foxconn project from Maharashtra, Deputy Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis took heart from the results. “These have proved that the people’s mandate is with us. The people have accepted the BJP-Shinde Sena alliance in Maharashtra.”
The BJP is also underlining that as its campaign for the panchayat elections was themed around “2.5 years of the MVA government” vs “2 months of the Shinde-Fadnavis government”, the results meant that the people had rejected the earlier regime led by Uddhav Thackeray.
Shinde used the results to send a message to the Sena ranks, saying: “From the beginning, we warned Uddhav Thackeray that the NCP was out to finish the Sena. But he never heeded our warning. He was smitten by the post of chief minister.”
Asking Sena workers to ponder “what the NCP has done to the Thackeray Sena”, Shinde said: “The NCP’s consolidation began after the formation of the MVA. It wants to overtake the Uddhav Sena.”
Dismissing “internal sabotage” as a cause for the Uddhav Sena’s poor performance, Congress president Nana Patole said, “The government’s decision to push for direct sarpanch polls helped the BJP manipulate the laws to have an upper hand.” He also claimed that when it came to gram panchayat members, the Congress, NCP and Uddhav Sena were stronger compared to BJP.
State NCP president Jayant Patil also alleged a “BJP plot” in holding direct sarpanch polls “so as to control the gram panchayats”. According to him, NCP was the largest party when it came to gram panchayat members.
It is the first time direct elections were held to sarpanch posts – instead of panchayat members voting to elect them – after the Shinde-Fadnavis government passed a law regarding this last month. The MVA had opposed the move. With more resources at its disposal, the BJP has leverage in any ground, large-scale campaign.
Maharashtra NCP spokesperson Mahesh Tapase said, “The BJP always blows its success out of proportion. The MVA has fared well.”
However, members of the Uddhav Sena admit their worries have only grown. A senior party leader called the gram panchayat results “a wake-up call”. “Since the Sena split, the cadre is battling uncertainty, they are demoralised,” he said, adding that while they were sure about bouncing back, it might take time.
The elections to gram panchayats and sarpanch posts were held last Sunday, in 51 talukas across 17 districts — Nandurbar, Dhule, Jalgaon, Buldhana, Akola, Washim, Amravati, Yavatmal, Nanded, Hingoli, Parbhani, Nashik, Pune, Ahmednagar, Latur, Satara and Kolhapur.