A FORTNIGHT before the results to the Uttar Pradesh and other four state assemblies were declared, the same rightwing offensive was evident in the elections to 10 municipal corporations (MC), 25 zilla parishads (ZP) and 283 panchayat samitis (PS) in Maharashtra. These elections took place last month and the results were declared on February 23.
THE OVERALL PICTURE
The BJP won eight of the ten municipal corporations – Nashik, Pune, Pimpri Chinchwad, Ulhasnagar, Solapur, Nagpur, Amravati and Akola with clear majorities. The Shiv Sena retained Thane with a clear majority. In Mumbai, there was a neck to neck fight, with the Shiv Sena winning 84 seats and the BJP close behind with 82.
In the ZPs and PSs, although the BJP greatly improved its position and the Shiv Sena retained its base, the results were not as one-sided as in the MC polls. The Congress and NCP, although they suffered a decline, retained some influence.
The BJP and the Shiv Sena, as also the Congress and the NCP, fought these elections against one another, just as they did in the state assembly elections of 2014.
In Mumbai and some other urban and rural areas, the struggle between the two rightwing and communal forces, viz BJP and Shiv Sena, succeeded in marginalising the other secular forces. This is a serious aspect that has come to the fore in these elections.
This is the third successive severe setback received by the Congress and the NCP after the parliament elections in April 2014 and the assembly elections in October 2014.
The chauvinist Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), which was trying to emerge as a force in urban areas a few years ago, has received a drubbing in these elections.
But on the other hand, the MIM which can be called the Muslim counterpart of the RSS, has made notable gains in MCs like Solapur and Amravati, opened its account in Mumbai and Thane, and had won substantial seats in the Aurangabad MC two years ago.
Among the Left and secular parties, the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) won the Raigad ZP, ten PSs in Raigad district and the Sangola PS in Solapur district, all of them in alliance with the NCP. The CPI won one ZP seat and two PS seats. The Bharatiya Republican Party (BRP) won three MC seats and a couple of ZP/PS seats. The JD(S) could not win a single seat.
Three months ago in November and December 2016, elections to 180 municipal councils were also held in the state. Here also, the BJP made substantial gains.
The vote share of the four major parties in the 2014 state assembly elections and in the 2017 MC/ZP elections was as follows: BJP – 27.8 percent (2014) to 29.7 percent (2017); Shiv Sena – 19.3 percent to 19.3 percent, Congress – 18.0 percent to 16.5 percent, NCP – 17.2 percent to 17.5 percent. Thus, in the last two and a half years, the BJP has gained 2 percent votes, the Congress has lost 1.5 percent votes, the Shiv Sena and the NCP have retained their vote share.
Although the BJP agreed to support the Shiv Sena in the Mumbai MC, in the election of PS chairpersons held all over the state on March 14, bizarre combinations were witnessed as a result of BJP-Shiv Sena and Congress-NCP rivalry. Neither of these four parties had any compunctions about teaming up with one another to somehow wrest local power. The same picture may be seen in the ZP chairperson elections on March 21.
The total seats won by the CPI(M) in the 2011-12 local body elections were 31 in 7 districts – 6 MC seats, 8 ZP seats and 17 PS seats. The three leading districts then were Thane-Palghar with 12 seats, Nashik with 11 seats and Solapur with 3 seats. In the 2016-17 local body elections (including in one election held earlier due to the Thane district bifurcation), the total seats won by the CPI(M) increased to 49 in 7 districts – 1 MC seat, 8 ZP seats, 21 PS seats, 1 municipal council seat and 18 municipal panchayat seats. The three leading districts now continue to be Thane-Palghar with 27 seats, Nashik with 17 seats and Solapur with 1 seat. The CPI(M) fought and won all the above elections on its own independent strength.
The successes of the CPI(M) were mainly in the rural areas. In Nashik district, the Party won the Surgana PS by winning 5 of the 6 seats and 2 of the 3 ZP seats. In the adjoining Tryambak PS, it won 2 of the 6 seats and 1 ZP seat. In both Surgana and Tryambak PS, CPI(M) chairpersons were elected. Earlier, the Party had won 5 seats in the Surgana municipal panchayat and 2 seats in the Peth municipal panchayat.
In Thane-Palghar district, due to district bifurcation, the ZP/PS elections were held in January 2015, just after the parliament and assembly elections of 2014, right in the midst of the BJP-Modi wave. Despite that, the CPI(M) increased its tally of seats won to 5 in the ZP and 11 in the four PSs of Talasari, Dahanu, Jawhar and Vikramgad. It won the post of chairperson of the Talasari PS. In the municipal panchayat elections held in November 2016, it won 11 of the 17 seats in Talasari and won the chairperson and deputy chairperson posts.
Among other districts, the Party won one PS seat each in Parbhani and Beed districts of the Marathwada region and 1 PS seat in Yavatmal district of the Vidarbha region. However, it lost 1 PS seat each in Nanded and Buldana districts in the same two regions. In several ZP/PS seats in the state, the Party secured good votes, and it lost 3 ZP seats by wafer-thin margins.
However, in these elections the CPI(M) faced some setback in the cities. In the Solapur MC, its seats won went down from 3 to 1. In the Nashik MC, our seats won went down from 3 to 0. But in both these cities, the Party secured substantial votes in some seats.
Some important political conclusions can be drawn from these results:
The rightward shift that began in 2014 with the ascendance of the BJP continues. One factor that has clicked is the BJP propaganda that with the central and state government in its hands, development would be more rapid if it is elected to the local bodies as well.
The Congress and the NCP are still in the doldrums as a result of their inept rule in the state for 15 years before 2014, their corruption scandals, failure to mount a credible opposition, lack of leadership, constant infighting and, most important, many of their leaders and activists simply deserting their sinking ships and crossing over to the BJP.
It was in this background that the BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ campaign for a clean and transparent administration and rapid development struck a chord. At the same time, the Sangh Parivar continued to stoke the communal and ‘nationalist’ fires in its grassroots campaign. This has now become the two-pronged strategy of the RSS-BJP.
Demonetisation does not seem to have adversely affected the prospects of the BJP in these elections. Similarly, the huge rallies by the Maratha caste and the counter-rallies by the OBCs and others, do not seem to have affected the BJP.
The BJP used all foul and opportunist means in its arsenal, backed by state power, to achieve victory. It enticed several leaders of the Congress and the NCP to its fold. It almost gobbled up the MNS in Nashik, where the MNS had won the MC last time. It admitted dubious criminals and corrupt contractors and gave them election tickets. It had no hesitation in concluding an electoral alliance with the notorious criminal Pappu Kalani in Ulhasnagar, whose earlier proximity to the Congress the BJP had itself denounced for years.
Finally, the massive money power used by the BJP in these elections was unprecedented. Since the 2014 elections, this has become the hallmark of all BJP campaigns throughout the country, thanks to its close proximity to the corporate lobby.
Despite this BJP victory, and precisely because of its policies, the burning problems of the rural and urban working people of Maharashtra are sure to intensify. The Left and democratic forces have to take up the challenge with renewed vigour and determination.