Maha Congress gets a boost with win in Nanded municipal elections

Mumbai: After a year-long winning spree in local elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra on Thursday suffered a severe blow in the elections to the Nanded Municipal Corporation in Marathwada, with the Congress registering a landslide.

The incumbent Congress had won 67 seats and was leading on another four in the 81-member municipal corporation till last reports. The BJP had managed only four and the Shiv Sena was reduced to a single seat. The 11 October election in Nanded saw a 64.82% turnout.

The landslide victory comes as a huge boost for state Congress president and former chief minister Ashok Chavan who is also the Lok Sabha member from Nanded. Chavan led the campaign from the front and took a calculated risk by refusing to ally with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Chavan said the Congress victory was the beginning of the end of the BJP in Maharashtra. “This is one tight slap to the BJP politics of splitting other parties and importing leaders from other parties,” Chavan said.

Equally, the BJP’s crushing defeat is a big personal setback for chief minister Devendra Fadnavis who led an aggressive campaign against the Congress and Chavan. This is BJP’s first major loss in Maharashtra since it emerged as the single largest party in the October 2014 assembly elections. It has since consolidated its position in elections to municipal councils, zilla parishad and municipal corporations. Last week, the BJP also claimed victory in Gram Panchayat polls—though opposition parties and Shiv Sena contested the claim since the Gram Panchayat polls were not fought on party symbols.

No immediate reaction came from Fadnavis who is on a visit to Sweden.

The scale of the Congress victory stood out even more because the party had won only 41 seats in the 2012 polls. In 2012 the BJP had 2 seats. The jump from 41 seats to 67 came at the expense of the Shiv Sena—from 14 in 2012 to 1 now—and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Party (AIMIM) as well as the NCP who had 11 and 10 seats respectively in 2012 and failed to open an account this time around.

“The entire Muslim vote in Nanded has come back to the Congress party. In addition, all those people from our party, Shiv Sena, and NCP who had moved to the BJP just ahead of the polls have bitten the dust,” said a Congress spokesperson requesting anonymity.

A BJP spokesperson, requesting anonimity, admitted that the strategy to “import leaders from other parties had backfired big time in Nanded”.

The BJP spokesperson also said that the party, in particular Fadnavis, should have avoided making personal attacks against Chavan for his alleged involvement in the Adarsh housing scam in Mumbai. “None other than Modiji (prime minister Narendra Modi) had attacked Chavan for his (alleged) involvement in the scam in 2014 Lok Sabha election campaign. Yet Chavan won and it meant that the Adarsh scam is a non-issue in Nanded,” he said.

Though the quantum of the Congress victory in Nanded is comprehensive, the BJP drew minor solace from its by-poll victories in Mumbai, Pune, and Nagpur where it won one seat each. In Mumbai particularly, a victory in Bhandup ward for the BJP has come against its arch rival Shiv Sena which won narrowly over the BJP in the February 2017 BMC polls. With the bypoll win in Bhandup, the difference between the Sena and BJP at the BMC has come down to just one seat—the Sena has 84 and the BJP 83. The BJP already rules the Pune and Nagpur municipal corporations.

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