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Saffron alliance sweeps Maharastra as secular votes stand divided
By M H Lakdawala

Thanks to the anti-Muslim tirade by Chhagan Bujbal, Muslims who voted for NCP in the last assembly election have deserted the party 

The Democratic Front (DF) government in Maharashtra suffered a major setback as the Shiv Sena-BJP combine retained power in the Prestigious Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the neighboring Thane civic body. The saffron alliance also made inroads in the Congress strongholds of Nashik and Solapur.

In the country's richest 227-member corporation, Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), Shiv Sena has bagged 99 seats and BJP 35, while Congress managed 61 and NCP 11 and Samajwadi Party 10. The Sena-BJP combine has crossed 134 seat mark, which gives them a majority in the house. 

Not only six (Mumbai, Thane, Nasik, Amaravati, Akola and Nagpur) of the 10 civic corporations have come under the sway of the Shiv Sena and the BJP in Maharashtra but the latter has also made significant strides. Ulhasnagar is in the Nationalist Congress Party's bag. The Sena, inspite of losing a few seats in Mumbai and Thane, has its undisputed stronghold elsewhere.

The worst news for the Congress came from Nashik, where it was the single largest party in the outgoing house. The Sena-BJP had surged ahead towards a clear majority. The NCP is totally decimated in Maharastra. 

Except in NCP supremo Sharad Pawar's pocket borough Pimpri-Chinchwad, where the NCP emerged as the single largest outfit with 36 seats, it has performed miserably elsewhere. The NCP has done poorly even in its western Maharashtra bastion. The party ultimately ended up with just the Ulhasnagar corporation, and that too because of a tie-up with area heavyweight Pappu Kalani, a notified TADA criminal. NCP could not make any dent in the constituency, from where party's mercurial leader and Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal hails.

Thanks to the anti-Muslim tirade by Chhagan Bujbal, Muslims who voted for NCP in the last assembly election have deserted the party now because of some of the decisions of Bujbal. Deputy Chief Minister supported POTO, ban on SIMI and opposed the financial assistance to the Malegoan riots victims as suggested by Congress. 

The Muslims of Mumbai have also punished Samajwadi party for not doing any constructive work inspite of having 21 corporators in the BMC last time. It suffered losses in 11 Muslim-dominated wards as compared to the last civic elections. Muslims were angered by the SP non-performance. 

Encouraged by the overwhelming mandate in the civic elections in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena supremo Bal Thackeray said the party's next target is the state assembly. "People have rested their faith in us. Even if there was unity between Congress and NCP, we would have won hands down," he said adding that a united Congress was no match for the Sena-BJP combine in 1995 assembly polls. 

About Tinaikar Committee Report, which had alleged financial irregularities by the saffron combine in the running of BMC, he said, "The election results show where the real corruption is". Bhujbal has admitted the setback saying "had NCP and Congress stayed together the results would have been different." 

Three things seem to tilt the preference towards the Sena-BJP in the state. Firstly, the inability of Congress and NCP to keep secular votes together. Analysts put down the Congress showing to its failure to maintain an alliance with the NCP in the polls. 

In Mumbai the poll results show that the Congress and NCP would have grabbed an additional 41 seats had they contested the elections together. In these 41 wards, the combined votes garnered by Congress and NCP candidates were more than what the winning candidates of the Sena-BJP combine received. With these 41 additional seats, the Congress-NCP could have easily managed to reach the magical figure of 114 in order to rule the roost in the BMC.

Secondly, excessive squabbling between the Congress (I) and the NCP to the extent that no party thinks that it can form post-poll tie-ups in civic bodies. The Congress and the NCP seem to have frittered away their energies battling each other instead of directing their attack on the Sena-BJP alliance. The Congress did not focus enough on the poor record of the Sena-BJP alliance in the BMC. The performance of the Sena-BJP in the BMC was marked by financial mismanagement and corruption.

Under the Sena-BJP, the BMC notched a huge deficit of Rs 645 crore. The Sena was wrecked with serious infighting in the run-up to elections with differences erupting into the open between its supremo Bal Thackeray and his son Uddhav on one hand and nephew, Raj, on the other.

And thirdly, poor turnout for the poll. An average turnout of 50 percent was reported in the polls in the 10 cities. In Mumbai only 40 percent of the electorate voted. The new millennium's first civic elections in Mumbai registered a lower voter turnout than the two previous polls. It was, however, marked by more violence and attempts at booth-capturing. While voter turnout in Mumbai and Ulhasnagar was barely 40 per cent, it was 52 per cent in Thane,

The roughly 40 per cent turnout was six per cent lower than in 1997, which was two per cent lower than in 1992. Also in Mumbai around one lakh hawkers boycotted the civic polls in the city to register their protest against the civic administration's drive to evict them.

The outcome of the civic polls has given a boost to Bal Thackeray son Uddhav's bid for the top spot in the Shiv Sena.Uddhav, who was given a free hand in the BMC polls this time, had invited the ire of senior Sena leaders, including Raj,for sidelining party loyalists and distributing tickets to those close to him. 

Sena critics say that Uddhav is an excellent political strategist, but is not a good orator like his father. But they say Raj speaks in a manner quite similar to the Sena supremo.

Nevertheless performance will speak. Itís high time Democratic Front government takes concrete steps to set its house in order. The anti incumbency factor has already started taking roots against it. People never forgive anyone for non performance.

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