The stage is set for elections to two municipal corporations on Wednesday in Maharashtra, where as many as 754 candidates will vie for 153 seats.
Polling will be held for the 78-member Sangli-Miraj-Kupwad Municipal Corporation (SMKMC) in Western Maharashtra and the 75-member Jalgaon Municipal Corporation (JMC) in North Maharashtra tomorrow. The counting is scheduled on August 3.
Elections are being watched with keen interest in political circles as their results are likely to throw up new leadership equations among parties, especially the BJP, at the local level.
The election to the JMC is important for the BJP’s local leadership. The BJP, under the leadership of Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan, has joined hands with Shiv Sena leader Sureshdada Jain’s local front, the Khandesh Vikas Aghadi (KVA).
Till Mahajan became a Cabinet minister in 2014, senior BJP leader and former Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse used to call the shots in politics of Jalgaon, North Maharashtra, and was seen as a key rival of Jain, a local heavyweight.
Jain was a minister in the Shiv Sena-BJP government (1995-99) and his local front KVA currently rules the JMC. After some rounds of meetings, the Shiv Sena and Jain decided to contest the 2018 civic body election on the Shiv Sena’s official symbol of “bow and arrow”.
Mahajan, after getting charge of the civic body election, forged an alliance between the BJP and the Shiv Sena for the JMC election.
“Had Khadse been in charge, he would have never accepted such a deal, because compared to the Sena, the BJP is getting less number of seats to contest in the 75-member house,” said a senior BJP official.
“But times have changed. If the Sena-BJP combine wins the civic body, it will strengthen Mahajans position in the party.
“Mahajan has also made truce with sitting BJP MLA Suresh Bhole (elected from Jalgaon city constituency),” said the official.
This also means the BJP is grooming an alternative to Khadse, considered the party’s face in North Maharashtra for several years.
The election to the SMKMC will test the BJP’s appeal among voters in Western Maharashtra, seen as a traditional stronghold of the NCP and the Congress. The BJP has increased its voter base in the Satara-Sangli-Kolhapur belt, but its electoral successes have been few.
Tomorrow’s election is an opportunity for the BJP to expand its base in the belt after it won a few seats in the neighbouring Kolhapur Municipal Corporation in 2015. If the BJP wins the SMKMC, it would be its first civic victory in the sugar belt.
In 2008, the Sharad Pawar-led NCP had joined hands with local BJP leaders and its ally to snatch power from the Congress in the civic corporation.
In 2013, the Congress won it back after a bitter fight with the NCP, whose local face is its senior leader Jayant Patil, a former minister.
Now both the Congress and the NCP have joined hands to counter the BJP, which is heading its first government in the state.
The polls to these civic bodies will also test the popularity of local leaders of other prominent parties.
Both cities, Sangli-Miraj-Kupwad and Jalgaon, have a total voter population of 7,89,251.
As many as 1,013 polling booths have been set up and 5,792 election staff deployed on duty in the two cities, State Election Commissioner JS Saharia told reporters today.
Voting will be held from 7.30 am to 5.30 pm and the counting will be taken up on August 3.
Giving break-up of the two civic bodies, he said 451 candidates are in fray for 78 seats in the SMKMC, while 303 nominees will vie for 75 seats in Jalgaon.
Sangli has 4,24,179 eligible voters, while there number is 3,65,072 in Jalgaon.
(With inputs from PTI)