Voters Galore in Mumbai’s BMC polls

Nikhil Mishra

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The Bharatiya Janata Party swept through the recent polls in 10 urban municipalities in Maharashtra, winning the largest number of seats in eight of ten contested municipalities. Of the eight, the BJP won a clear majority in six municipalities. The Shiv Sena won the largest number of seats in the remaining two municipalities, holding a clear majority in Thane, and narrowly holding the largest number of seats in Mumbai.

For Mumbai, this result is as hopeful as it is bleak. Despite the results showing a stronger mandate for the two saffron parties, the problems of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) remain relatively unaffected by election results; the core of the BMC’s problems are administrative and bureaucratic, and despite both parties’ allegations against one another, it remains to be seen whether this stronger mandate will result in the administrative and bureaucratic restructuring the city sorely needs. Thankfully this means that simple changes in transparency and accountability practices will produce wondrous results for the city. 

Despite Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ ultra-clean image and track record of cleaning up public administration when he has power, the BJP’s inability to gain a clear majority makes it unclear whether Fadnavis can reform the BMC.

In looking at these results, one cannot miss the decline of the Marathi parties, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Maharashtra Navirman Sena (MNS), famous for its vocal campaign against migrants from states such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. The MNS’s decline was to some extent predictable, but the extent of their losses were staggering – 28 Mumbai seats in 2012 to 7 in 2017, 40 Nashik seats in 2012 to 5 in 2017. The NCP too lost out; while it maintained the 34 seats it won in Thane in 2012, it lost a staggering 47 seats in Pimpri-Chinchwad and fell from 20 seats in 2012 to 6 in 2017 in Nashik. While these parties’ campaigns and strategies were poor, especially when compared to previous years, the fact that the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) managed to win seats despite not having a significant presence in any part of the state suggests that Marathi voters may be fed up with Maharashtra-focused parties, continued support for the Shiv Sena notwithstanding. Similarly, the Indian National Congress’ performance was concerning; while it has clearly declined at the national level, factionalism at the municipal level, as well as in-fighting and ‘playing politics’ has diminished the party’s appeal at the grassroots level too. If this trend holds up, we may very well be looking at the beginning of a post-Congress era in Indian politics, if other states are also dominated by a mixture of local and non-Congress national parties.

Coming back to Maharashtra’s local-national mix, the BJP-Sena alliance is on unstable ground; the Shiv Sena called off the alliance for local elections despite their state and national-level coalition. If the Sena withdraws its support and no other party endorses it, the Fadnavis government will lose its mandate and be forced to contest mid-term elections. That said, the results at the municipal level suggest that if mid-term state elections were to take place, the Sena would not have the upper hand. Despite holding onto its traditional stronghold in Thane and narrowly winning in Mumbai, where it still doesn’t have a majority, the Shiv Sena has lost out across municipalities. It would benefit the Sena to continue its alliance with the BJP; the mandate across the state overwhelmingly belongs to the two and the Sena lacks the momentum to win outright on its own but the bitterness that characterised the verbal jousts between the Sena leaders and Fadnavis may prevent that.

Looking ahead, the BJP’s prospects in several state-level elections across the country look good, whether in Uttar Pradesh, Manipur or Uttarakhand. Their support has nearly tripled in Mumbai, from 31 seats in 2012 to 82 in 2017, and their rise in one of India’s most prominent cities is sure to influence votes elsewhere, if only among the urban. Moreover, their recent success in Zilla Parishads (rural municipalities) in Odisha, coupled with this round of success in urban municipalities indicates that the BJP has finally learned how to compete successfully with explicitly local parties, which bode well for the party.

Most impressively, the party has been able to market itself as an anti-corruption crusader in the vein of the AAP, and this has allowed them to actually take advantage of the disruption caused by demonetization. Despite nearly every mainstream media outlet predicting doom and gloom, since demonetization the BJP has won municipal elections in Gujarat, Maharashtra civic elections in panchayats (which are not the same as the current municipal elections), Maharashtra urban municipal elections and Odisha ZP elections, and looks primed to retake Goa too. If demonetization has not harmed the party thus far, it is not likely to do so now, and it behooves the party to take advantage of its strengthened mandate in the state and elsewhere to carry forward the fight against corruption and black money.

(Full disclosure: this author is a member of the BJP).

Election Results
Clear Mandates
Shiv Sena: 67/131 in Thane
BJP: 98/162 in Pune
BJP: 66/122 in Nashik
BJP: 108/151 in Nagpur
BJP: 77/128 in Pimpri-Chinchwad
BJP: 48/80 in Akola
BJP: 45/87 in Amravati

Fractured Mandates
Ulhasnagar
BJP: 32/78
Shiv Sena: 25/78
Solapur
BJP: 49/102
Shiv Sena: 21/102
Congress: 14/102
Mumbai
Shiv Sena: 84/227
BJP: 82/227
Congress: 31/227