The recent panchayat elections in Maharashtra have given an unexpected gain to the BJP in the Konkan and Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR). The panchayat election are normally not fought on the party symbols but rather local panels are created at the village level. Disparate alliances happen at the local level which are unimaginable at the state level. Imagine a Shiv Sena vs BJP + Congress + NCP fight in a gram panchayat. Such alliances do happen if various leaders decide to defeat a local strongman.
A local Marathi channel (TV9 Marathi) did venture to show the figures of gram panchayats won by each party. BJP was shown as being the largest party, though the sum of seats won by the MVA parties (who fought independently) was higher. This seat count is not pin point accurate but it indicates the trend. While the BJP is the biggest party, the MVA can taste bigger success if they fight together but they might have to fight the scourge of internal rebellion in such a scenario.
The real subtext of these panchayat elections is the actual gains made by the individual parties in the various regions. The BJP seems to have made huge strides in the Sindhudurg, Raigad and Thane districts of the state. Though official figures are not available as these elections were not fought on the official party symbols, but BJP MLA Nitesh Rane claimed that BJP won majority of the gram panchayats in the district. Media channel ABP Majha reported BJP win in 43 gram panchayats while Sena could win only 23 gram panchayats in Sindhudurg. NCP won only 1 gram panchayat while local panels won 3 gram panchayats. The Congress as usual drew a blank. The BJP won gram panchayats in all three assembly seats in the district. It is a huge setback for the Sena and a huge boost for Narayan Rane and family.
The Sena dominated Ratnagiri district by winning 316 gram panchayats followed by 83 for the NCP. The BJP won a decent 23 gram panchayats in the district where it has no MLAs. In fact the BJP did not fight even a single assembly seat in Ratnagiri in 2019, with ally Sena fighting all five seats.
Though results are not easily available for Raigad district, BJP has wrested many gram panchayats from the Peasants and Workers party, which is a strong local party. In Panvel assembly segment, BJP won 10 out of the 15 gram panchayats which went to the polls. BJP also made significant gains in Uran and Pen assembly seats, where BJP has it’s MLA (Note – BJP rebel won on the Uran seat defeating the official Sena candidate in 2019).
BJP defeated the Sena in Thane district as well winning 65 gram panchayats as compared to a tally of 39 for the Sena. This reflects the fact that the BJP has more MLAs than the Sena in Thane district. Sena has historically dominated Thane district but BJP is emerging as a force in the most populous district of the state.
The above results indicate a trend which is worrisome for the Shiv Sena and NCP and a boost for the BJP. The MMR and Konkan still have the umbilical cord intact between them. A large population in the urban centers of MMR originally comes from the Konkan. This population is closely connected with their native Konkan and regularly visits their native place for festivals like Holi, Nag Panchami, Diwali and the biggest festival of the region, Ganesh Chaturthi. During Ganesh Chaturthi, a huge part of the population from Mumbai, Thane and other cities like Kalyan- Dombivali visits their villages to celebrate their favorite god’s arrival for 7-10 days.
The Shiv Sena spread to the Konkan through it’s cadre in Mumbai and Thane. The MMR shapes the political decisions of Konkan (the three districts of Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg) and vice versa too. Narayan Rane made his clout in Maharashtra after capturing the Konkan region. If the Konkan region is moving politically towards the BJP, the ripple effects would be felt in the urban centers of the MMR. For the Sena which is already facing a major demographic crisis in the MMR, this shift towards the BJP in Konkan hits them the hardest. Most attached to their roots in Konkan are the lower middle class Marathi people who hail from the Konkan region. They travel frequently to their natives and are likely to be influenced by the political mood there.
This is the core Sena vote and even a minor shift of this vote bank will prove costly for the Sena especially in Mumbai, as the BJP has a formidable 40% vote bank (Gujarati, Hindi bhashik, Kannadigas, Tamils etc.) and has already captured the upper middle class Marathi voters (approximately 10-12%). Any shift of a section of the lower middle class Marathi voters towards the BJP would give the party a clean sweep in Mumbai and make it a close runner up in the municipal corporations of the Thane district.
Similar situation exists in the rural Thane district. A huge number of people living in Mumbai, Thane, KDMC, Panvel, Badlapur etc. have families in the villages of Thane district. BJP has already emerged as a force in Thane district in the last assembly election, when it overtook the Sena in terms of seats in the district. The MMR + Konkan region has 75 assembly seats and is numerically the biggest and most populous area in the state. It has 9 municipal corporations and accounts for one third of the state GSDP. If BJP starts wresting the municipal corporations in this area, the Sena would be squeezed of it’s biggest funding source.
Aggressive leadership has been at the root of the spectacular success by the BJP. Leaders like Narayan Rane and his sons Nitesh and Nilesh in Sindhudurg or powerful MLAs Prashant Thakur, Ravisheth Patil and Mahesh Baldi in Raigad district or strong leaders like Ganesh Naik, Ravindra Chavan, Kisan Kathore, Kapil Patil and Niranjan Davkhare in Thane district are bringing the party to a position of strength. The only district where the BJP has to make course correction is the Ratnagiri district where it lacks powerful leaders. The bulk of Sena and NCP wins have come from Ratnagiri.
Hence, the BJP has to fully exploit this unexpected electoral boost it has got in the Konkan region and the Thane district and use it to it’s advantage in the upcoming municipal corporation polls. Conversely the Sena has to try and mend the gaping holes made in it’s “Fort Konkan” by the BJP. Overall expect a fascinating electoral contest in the coming 13 months.