BMC Elections 2017: Late surge by BJP spoils Sena’s party, uncertainty over future

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Making giant strides in the Shiv Sena citadel of Mumbai, BJP won 82 seats in the fiercely fought BMC polls on Thursday, just two seats behind the estranged saffron ally, but both were well short of the magic figure of 114 needed to control the civic body. The hung verdict will reset the political calculations as no party is in the position to rule the country’s richest civic body on its own and alliance seems inevitable.

However, it is not yet clear whether the saffron allies, who share power both in Maharashtra and at the Centre, will get back together or new combinations will emerge. In the counting of votes held on Thursday, the Congress was relegated to the third position with 31 seats, whereas the NCP and the Raj Thackeray’s MNS were reduced to 9 and 7 seats, respectively.

AIMIM, which had made its maiden entry into the Maharashtra Assembly with two seats in the last polls, won three seats on debut in the BMC elections, Samajwadi Party six, Akhil Bhartiya Sena one and Independents four. The results came as a shot in the arm for Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who spearheaded the BJP’s campaign with focus on transparency. The BJP also came out with flying colours in other municipal corporations and local bodies.

Ten municipal corporations, 25 Zilla Parishads and 283 Panchayat Samitis went to polls on February 16 and 21. The BJP’s victory came as a major morale-booster for the party which is in the midst of gruelling assembly polls in five states, including key battleground state of Uttar Pradesh, where it is pitted against strong opponents.

The calumny-filled campaign for control of BMC had even cast a shadow on the stability of the state government, with the Sena threatening to walk out and putting the government on notice. In the outgoing civic body, Sena had 89 seats, BJP 32, Congress 51, NCP 14, SP 8, MNS 28, PWP 1, and Independents 4.

Sena has controlled the BMC for the last two decades with BJP remaining a junior partner. Sena’s gamble to go alone in its bastion appeared to have failed to pay off. Thanking the voters, an elated Fadnavis said, “Our victory is the result of people’s acceptance of our agenda of transparency,” and indicated that his party’s core committee would explore the options before it.

Meanwhile, when asked about the future course of action, Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray said, “What is the hurry? Wait for some time. We have not yet decided if an alliance has to be made or not. We will do so soon.”

Earlier, on a day of fluctuating fortunes, the initial trends put Sena ahead in close to 100 seats, prompting the analysts to predict that it would a smooth road to power for the Uddhav Thackeray’s party with the support of a few independents or smaller entities. As the counting progressed, the BJP surged ahead to notch up its highest-ever tally in the municipal body, whose annual budget surpasses even those of some smaller states. Last year’s budget of BMC stood at Rs 37,052 crore.

With the Congress getting reduced to 31 seats, its city unit president Sanjay Nirupam, who had crossed swords with senior leader Gurudas Kamat ahead of the polls, offered to quit, owning responsibility for the rout.

The voters dealt a heavy blow to Raj Thackeray’s MNS whose tally fell to mere 7 from 28 in 2012, primarily due to a huge consolidation of Marathi votes in favour of Shiv Sena.

The Sharad Pawar-led NCP had during the campaign itself admitted that the party did not have much at stake in the megapolis.

As the BJP put up a sterling performance in civic polls across state including the BMC, Fadnavis said the victory was a vote for transparency and demonetization.

As no party is in the position to rule the BMC on its own and the saffron allies are looking in opposite directions, it now remains to be seen how the major players cobble together an alliance which has enough numbers to control the civic body. When asked about this, Fadnavis said the party’s core committee will decide the future course of action.

“All decisions for the party are taken by its core committee. Whether or not to go for an alliance will be decided when I, (Maharashtra BJP President) Raosaheb Danve, (Mumbai BJP chief) Ashish Shelar sit and look at the prevailing situation,” he told reporters in Mumbai.

Since the last two days, the BJP has been trying to send the signal that it did not want the bitterness of the campaign to continue. In his interview to a newspaper, Fadnavis recently said the post-poll alliance will be on “transparency” alone.

State BJP president Raosaheb Danve told reporters, “Everybody needs to forgive and forget the allegations as well as the strong language used during the campaign. Now, the mandate is out and we respect it.” He also said the BJP could be able to rule the cash-rich body with the support of some independents, which appears unlikely.

On the other hand, a senior BJP leader said both the parties should join hands in Mumbai. “Enough of bitterness. Now, it’s time to come together again,” Chandrakant Patil, minister in Devendra Fadnavis-led ministry said, indicating that the bickering allies in the state government could come together after fractured verdict. “Is there any other option than the two parties coming together, given the number of seats each one has bagged? Will they (Shiv Sena) take support of Congress?” said Patil, known to have excellent rapport with the central BJP leadership.

“Instead of indulging in unscientific things, like taking Congress along, both the parties should do things which are scientific and come together to govern Mumbai,” Patil said. “Devendra Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray should decide the power-sharing formula. Both are good friends,” the minister said.

Patil’s remarks came even as BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari said the party will “introspect” reasons for its performance, which he said was “not as per the expectations”. “We will introspect and find out reasons for our performance in Mumbai, which was not as per expectations,” Bhandari said.

BJP leader Vinod Tawde said his party has emerged as the overall leader in elections to 10 municipal corporations and 25 zilla parishads held recently. “The BJP is the number one party in Maharashtra,” Tawde, who is also the state’s Education minister, told reporters. “This result is a befitting reply to Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut, who had said the BJP did not have the ‘aukat’ (ability) to win even 40 seats in the BMC,” Tawde said.

Two big parties will have to forge an alliance to be able to rule the BMC as independents and smaller parties do not have the numbers. Congress, Samajwadi Party and AIMIM are unlikely to support a BJP-led dispensation.

Thackeray, on his part, asserted that the city Mayor would be from the Sena, an indication that he could go for a hard bargain if the two saffron parties were to come together again.

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