Despite Prime minister Narendra Modi's unpopular demonetisation move, his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) managed to top the tally after results to the latest round of elections to civic bodies in Maharashtra were released Monday.
The saffron party emerged the single-largest in elections to municipal councils and nagar panchayats.
Demonetisation has doomed political parties and leaders who depended on money power to win elections. The Opposition has been highly active against demonetisation for the last 20 days; taking out rallies, handing over memoranda to President Pranab Mukherjee and demanding the decision be rolled back.
Maharashtra too was highly polarised on the issue. The Opposition expected large-scale anger among the public to help them in the polls.
Twist in the tale
However, the outcome of the polls has an entirely different story to tell. Proving all speculations wrong the rural population of Maharashtra seems to have accepted the demonetisation move hoping for better future.
Here are the figures:
Total seats declared: 3,510
Local Coalition: 384
"It is only because of the confidence shown by the people of Maharashtra that we could register such a massive victory in the elections. It is nothing but the clear support to various welfare schemes being implemented by the state government. The hard work we are putting in has inculcated confidence about BJP in the people of Maharashtra," said Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis.
These elections were acid test for BJP as the municipal councils were going for polls on the backdrop of demonetisation, which has rendered majority of the population cashless and struggling to meet their daily needs.
Contrary to the expectation that BJP would suffer a major blow in these elections, it has improved its performance like never before. The number of BJP seats in municipal councils has increased three times.
Out of 3,150 seats, BJP alone has won more than 851 seats. In 2011, BJP came fourth with 298 seats, and has now surged to the first place. Congress, which was the single largest party, has been pushed down to number three. The NCP was worst hit. It was reduced to 551 from 916 it won in 2001.
BJP could not win even a single seat in the 86 municipal councils during 2011 elections, while it had only one or two members in 26 municipal councils. After the 2011 municipal council elections, BJP could manage to win only seven seats of municipal council chief. This time the party has made a quantum leap to 52.
Dry run to the Assembly
The first of the four-phase municipal council and district council elections were conducted in Maharashtra on 27 November. The elections were considered to be mini Assembly elections as it covered 25 of the 36 districts in the state.
The outcome is being considered to be a major victory for CM Fadnavis since he was the main campaigner for the party.
During the campaign, Fadnavis concentrated on the development work carried out by the state government. After the demonetisation announcement, at every rally he would explain to the people that it would bring good days as corruption and black money would be eliminated.
Whereas, Congress and NCP, the main Opposition parties, continued to criticise BJP for the shortage of currency due to the decision.
The decision of state government to introduce direct elections for municipal council presidents seems to have helped the BJP and the Shiv Sena in a big way.
Veteran journalist and political analyst Ganesh Torsekar says, "The Congress and NCP leaders who could not use their black money in these elections, lost miserably. The black money used in the elections is routed through cooperative credit societies and banks. These institutions were barred from accepting deposits and exchanging old currency notes. This was the biggest problem for the leaders who solely depended on black money to win the elections."
Despite being on the top of the tally, some of the senior BJP leaders suffered miserable defeats in their pocket boroughs.
Senior leader and rural development minister Pankaja Munde failed to retain Parali municipal council, the stronghold of late Gopinath Munde. She lost Parali to her estranged cousin and NCP leader Dhananjay Munde. State unit chief of BJP Raosaheb Danve too, could not save face in his borough Bhokardhan.
Similarly, NCP suffered serious setbacks in constituencies such as Islampur and Tasgaon in Sangli district along with some in Kolhapur district. Islampur is the hometown of senior NCP leader Jayant Patil.
Like BJP and NCP, Congress too faced some miserable defeats and stunning comebacks. Congress managed to win municipal councils in Karad of Satara district, the home turf of former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan. However, they lost to BJP in direct elections to the post of council president.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen