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BJP still in the reckoning

BJP still in the reckoning
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The resounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Maharashtra municipal elections and its similar good performance in Odisha local...

The resounding victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Maharashtra municipal elections and its similar good performance in Odisha local body polls sure comes as a shot in the arm for the BJP leadership. This is bound to impact the outcome of the ongoing Assembly elections in the key state of Uttar Pradesh, too, where at least three more phases are yet to be completed.

There is certainly a significance to these elections as these have been held under the cloud of demonetisation and the claims of the Opposition of its total failure. BJP's own ally Shiv Sena had not only hit out at the Modi-Amit Shah combine as never before, but had also gone hammer and tongs against the demonetisation. Moreover, the vitriol that the Sena leadership sprayed on the faces of the two has also been unparalleled.

Sena had gone ahead and challenged the BJP to walk out of the alliance if it felt like doing so. This goes to prove that in the absence of a credible alternative and a credible face at the Centre, the BJP continues to gain or at least retain its goodwill of 2014 for some more time.

In the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), the Sena no doubt is at the top of the count with 84 seats out of the 227. But it is by no means any betterment of its earlier performance or so. In fact, it is the BJP that made impressive gains, bagging 82 seats. And it has the support of four independents already which, in effect, means that unless the Sena leadership decides and so does the other non-BJP parties, there is nothing to stop the BJP from taking charge of the BMC.

In nearby Thane, the Shiv Sena bagged 67 out of 131 seats while the BJP, only 23. In fact, it was the NCP of Sharad Pawar here which scored more with 34 seats.

But in the rest of Maharashtra, the BJP simply decimated almost all rivals. Though one may attribute the success to the Chief Minister, Devendra Fadnavis, the latter is categorical in crediting Modi with the success.

It is apparent that Shiv Sena which is a part of the government as an ally is not really key to the alliance now. BJP has gone ahead and proved it wrong in no uncertain terms. Of the eight municipal bodies, the BJP won 98 of the 162 seats in Pune. It was the NCP which came second bagging 40 seats and the Shiv Sena could manage only 10 seats.

Out of the 151 in Nagpur, the BJP pocketed 108 and the Congress could take away only 29 seats.
Coming to Nashik, the BJP won 67 out of 122 seats. This civic body saw Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) winning in the 2012 civic elections.

Now it could retain only five seats. It goes to show that the voter preference has been the BJP over all others. It did not matter whether the opponent was the Shiv Sena, the NCP or the MNS. For the Congress, it is a doomsday prediction. (And if things go wrong for it in the UP elections too, which seems to be the prediction, it will need a long long time to regain its face).

In Pune, the BJP bagged 98 and the NCP came second with 40 out of 151 seats. Congress tally was 11 and Shiv Sena, one less. In Pimpri-Chinchwad, out of 128 seats, the BJP got 78 and the NCP 35. Shiv Sena had to contend with the single digit of 9. In Nashik, out of 122 seats the BJP took away 67 with the Shiv Sena scoring a somewhat respectable 34. The Congress could manage just six seats here. Coming to Akola, the BJP snatched 48 leaving just three for the Congress and eight and five for the Shiv Sena and NCP respectively.

The story of Amaravati was no different where out of 87 seats, the BJP bagged 45, leaving the Congress with just 15 and Shiv Sena a paltry 7. What is striking is not just the decimation of Shiv Sena, but also that of the NCP whose stronghold has always been the Vidarbha region.

The winning strategy of the BJP has lessons for other parties to learn. It has welcomed heavyweights from other parties and honoured them with tickets. The party's top leadership got its act together and conducted surveys several times. Tickets were denied to non-performers and wherever incumbency was a negative factor, relatives of leaders were kept out. If one expects a cleaner approach to elections, that is what the BJP had offered.

Compare this to the divided house of the Congress which had lost focus completely. The other non-BJP parties may clutch on to some hope of a better tomorrow, but what hopes does the Congress have in Maharashtra if it continues its intra-party bickering forever. It is not just rudderless at the local level, so does look its top leadership too.

On the right opposite corner of India, Odisha too tells us the same story where the BJP bagged 306 local bodies out of 851 just the other day. In 2012, the party had in its kitty only 36. The BJD tally of 651 had come down to 460 now, with the INC losing more than half of its power in the 126 bodies that it had in 2012. This time around it bagged just 61.

If Nitin Gadkari and Devendra Fadnavis did the job for the party in Maharashtra, it was Dharmendra Pradhan who did the miracle in Odisha. Prior to 2012, Odisha had more than 3,500 villages without electricity. In the last two years, more than 2,500 of these had been electrified, the BJP leadership explains. "We are gaining here in Odisha too. Slowly but steadily. We have realised that there is severe anti-incumbency because of the backwardness and unemployment. These are the two key factors in turning the people's ire against the ruling governments,” observed a leader.

The discourse is certainly changing. Not just in the urban centres and metros, but also elsewhere in the rural areas. This is an aspirational India where even minor issues are being taken seriously by the electorate. People are weighing in the right and the wrong of every action and every word and every happening and every policy. Parties that do not read the voters' pulse properly or misread it shall reap woes.

The core voters may not switch loyalties, but all the others may not follow suit. This is getting reflected even in UP. Akhilesh Yadav might have curbed further erosion of his base in fighting out his father and leader, Mulayam Singh Yadav. Despite this and despite his "kaam ki baat,” his dependence on his core base, Muslim-Yadav combination, is not being much appreciated. The general refrain is, "it is old politics.

Such direct or indirect dependence on caste and religion alone is not going to help anyone. The voter is growing up. The leaders and the parties too should. Take everyone along to win.”There is another aspect to UP too. If Akhilesh gains and retains power, it is Akhilesh alone that is to benefit.

The other local, Rahul Gandhi, is not going to gain even a millimeter in stature. It is again 'the same old Congress story." "Akhilesh emerged from the shadow of his own dynasty at least. Rahul has not yet been weaned away from his bottle,” is the refrain here. It is the old order vs the new!

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