Congress' rout

The results of elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) -- which the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance will continue to rule for the fourth consecutive term -- are a setback to the Congress and its ally, the Nationalist Congress party (NCP).

The BMC elections attract attention because it is the country’s richest corporation with an annual budget of over Rs 21,000 crore.  They are also indicative of urban voting behaviour, though the Sena-BJP combine’s long and continuous tenure there and the nature of the electorate now have made the city less representative than in the past. But a Congress-BJP government is in power in the state and chief minister Prithviraj Chavan had presented the election as a contest between the UPA and the NDA.

He had predicted the rout of the saffron parties. For the first time the Congress and the NCP formed an alliance for the civic elections and the combined strength of the two parties was expected to give a stiff challenge to the ruling combine. But it was the Congress, which lost as many as 30 seats, which was routed.

The Shiv Sena also lost some ground but the BJP gained, and the combine will comfortably form the council with the help of rebels and independents. While the pooling of votes did not help the Congress-NCP alliance, a division of the Shiv Sena votes caused by the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS),  led by Bal Thackeray’s disaffected nephew Raj Thackeray, did not seriously hurt the Sena’s prospects.

This may be because of the sentimental appeal that Bal Thackeray still has with a section of the electorate. The Sena cannot bank on it for ever. The most important feature of the election is the remarkable increase in the strength of the MNS which  raised its tally from seven to 28.

The  relatively better performance of the Congress and the NCP in  civic elections outside Mumbai does not detract from the failure in Mumbai. The Congress has no grassroots leadership in the city and even at state level its leadership is not convincing.

Leaders and governments have been tainted by scandals. It is also doubtful if the Congress and the NCP cadres actually helped each other. The Sena-BJP combine was perhaps the lesser evil for the electorate. Low voter turnout of 45 per cent was proof of that.

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