The spectacular Congress sweep in the Nanded municipal corporation polls last week has offered a glimmer of hope to all non-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) parties in Maharashtra, including the Shiv Sena.
The Congress won 73 of 81 seats in the municipal body and the BJP only six. While crushing the BJP, the Congress obliterated other parties including the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Party (MIM) which drew a blank. The Shiv Sena won a single seat.
Yet, except the MIM, most non-BJP parties in the state have preferred to project what they consider the “big message from Nanded” for the BJP—that “it is not invincible”. While conceding that Nanded, with its sizeable Muslim population like in other parts of Marathwada, and its long-standing loyalty to the Congress party, was a relatively easier constituency to conquer for the Congress as compared to other parts of the state, political functionaries and observers feel the Nanded mandate offers some important lessons for the BJP and the opposition parties.
“For once, it has come as a big feel-good factor in the sense it halts the BJP’s victory run. The big takeaway for us is if we get our act together and run a positive campaign, we can beat the BJP,” said a Congress functionary close to state Congress president and Nanded Member of Parliament (MP) Ashok Chavan. “We focused on our traditional vote banks and also reached out to the BJP vote bank of small traders and businesses on the issue of demonetisation and GST (goods and services tax). But we ran a low-profile campaign,” said the Congress functionary requesting anonymity.
The NCP was quick to congratulate the Congress even though the former lost all the ten seats it had won in the 2012 Nanded polls. NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said the BJP’s loss was significant because the voters in Nanded had rejected “the BJP’s dirty tricks of importing leaders from other parties”.
“For the record, we have congratulated the Congress because it is a splendid victory. But for us, the result underlines the need for introspection as to why we are losing in civic elections,” said another NCP functionary requesting anonymity. He, however, termed the Nanded mandate as Maharashtra’s “Delhi 2015 and Bihar 2015 moment”, recalling how the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) and Janata Dal-Rashtriya Janata Dal-Congress mahagathbandhan had decimated the BJP in Delhi and Bihar, respectively.
A political strategist who worked for the BJP in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly polls in Maharashtra said the Nanded result did offer “a mahagathbandhan-like opportunity to the opposition”. “The BJP has claimed that its vote share in Nanded has gone up from 3.81 per cent in 2012 to nearly 25 per cent now. It is a fair observation, but it ignores the rise in the Congress vote share too. The Congress has got nearly 50 per cent of the votes, and the remaining 25 per cent votes are divided among non-BJP parties,” the strategist said requesting anonymity.
The Shiv Sena too, which rarely lets go of an opportunity to attack the BJP, has gloated more over the Congress than pondered its decline from 14 to one seat in Nanded. While the Sena mouthpiece Saamana wrote that the Nanded loss put paid to the BJP’s dream of ‘Congress-mukt Bharat”, Sena president Uddhav Thackeray last week concurred with Ashok Chavan’s view that the Nanded debacle was “the beginning of the decline of the BJP”.
Political commentator and senior journalist Bhau Torsekar said the Nanded result has long-term lessons for every political party. “The decline of MIM and NCP is a major takeaway which not many have noted. The entire Muslim vote bank in Nanded has moved from MIM and other parties to the Congress which indicates the possibility of communal polarisation in future. Whenever and wherever Muslims have voted en-bloc for the Congress, it has almost led to reverse Hindu polarisation towards the BJP. In that sense, Nanded elections could be an indicator of things to come,” he said.
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