The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons in the ongoing Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) elections. The first phase of the polls took place on Thursday, 16 February, with the second phase slotted for 21 February.
Opponents are alleging that the BJP has fielded the most number of candidates with criminal records, and the party, along with Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, are being trolled on social media for its tagline 'the party with a difference'.
After parting ways with the Shiv Sena, the BJP has been trying hard to make a mark in the MCGM elections, with its sole objective purportedly being to win more seats than its former ally.
The BJP has seen a spate of new inductions into the party, after its recent success in the 2014 Lok Sabha, the Maharashtra Assembly and local polls. And Fadnavis admits: “We accept that some of the candidates, who have recently joined the party, have criminal records. But a majority of them have been acquitted by the various courts, and no one has challenged their acquittal. While going for elections, the electoral merit of the candidate plays a vital role. Contrary to allegations, 93% of the candidates for MCGM are from our own cadre, and only 7% candidates are from outside. They have been given tickets purely on their electoral merit.”
A senior BJP leader, on the condition of anonymity, says: “Opposition parties are spreading false information about the BJP. The fact is that all those criticising us for fielding candidates with criminal records have themselves done that. If you go by the list, only for MCGM, the truth will come out.”
According to list released by Mumbai office of the BJP, Shiv Sena has the maximum number of candidates having serious criminal records against them (81), followed by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS, 64) and the Congress (44). The BJP and Nationalist Congress Party – which has often faced criticism for fielding candidates with criminal records – have each fielded 29 such candidates.
Voters still unhappy
However, the BJP's core supporters unhappy with even this number. Their main grievance is that the party should have given up its dream of winning more seats to protect and maintain the 'party with a difference' tag.
“It is true that electoral merit is important when it comes to selecting the candidates. But it should not the excuse to field candidates with criminal records or cases pending against them. This is an indication that BJP is slowly drifting away from the core principle, for which it was known,” says Vaibhav Gohatre, a BJP voter.
He is not the only person who thinks like this. Many BJP supporters have taken to social media to vent out their anger and frustration.
Fadnavis's defence against this is: “Those who allege that we have given tickets to candidates with criminal records should first check the facts. All others, including Shiv Sena, have more candidates with criminal records than us. There not a single case pending against the candidates fielded by the BJP. I agree that some had criminal cases against them, but how can they be termed 'criminals' when courts of law have acquitted them?”
However, there is large-scale discontent among BJP cadres across the state, especially in the 10 cities where civic elections are to be held on 21 February. Party loyalists are unhappy at being sidelined.
There are allegations that the Nashik unit of the BJP tried to field a candidate with criminal cases against him. “The decision was taken by the local unit without approval of the Central leadership. The decision was immediately turned down, and the local leaders were warned of stern action,” Fadnavis says.