Wednesday geared up for the crucial polls to 10 top civic
corporations and 27 zilla parishads (district councils) across the
state, in an exercise considered a dress rehearsal for the 2014
The sheer numbers of the electorate - some five crore - going to
these polls, crucial issues at hand, the contemporary political
situation and the local ground-level political realities have
unnerved all major political parties and their alliances in this
key western Indian state.
The State Election Commission Tuesday announced polling dates -
Feb 16 for the municipal corporations and Feb 7 for the 27 zilla
parishads and 309 gram panchayats (village councils).
This has triggered hectic political activity, both among the
ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) combine and the
opposition parties, chiefly the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv
Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
The civic polls in Maharashtra have assumed ever greater
importance this time in view of Anna Hazare's anti-corruption
campaign targeting the Congress and the upcoming assembly
elections in Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Manipur and Goa
between Jan 28 and March 3.
The prime focus will be on the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation,
the biggest and richest civic body in the country of what also is
the financial, entertainment, glamour, and mafia capital of the
country, besides the municipal corporations of Pune and Nagpur,
the state's second capital situated in the farm crises ridden
Vidarbha in eastern Maharashtra.
Not taking any chances, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan of the
Congress party has been doling out largesse targeting all sections
of the poor, middle-class and urban population for the past couple
Political parties are now busy drawing and re-drawing alliances to
win the keys to the major civic bodies, most of which, be it
Pimpri-Chinchwad near Pune or Aurangabad in Marathwada region, are
The outcome in the civic polls could be an indicator of the public
mood and the likely course of politics in the state before the
parliament and assembly elections, due after two years or so.
The NCP and the Congress are enthusiastic about the civic
elections - the parties last month emerged at the top two
positions respectively in the elections to around 200 small civic
bodies in the state, pushing the opposition far behind.
The BJP-Shiv Sena-Republican Party of India (RPI) alliance, which
failed to enthuse rural voters last month, is expected to bounce
back with the theme of 'Shiv Shakti-Bhim Shakti' against the
backdrop of the recent agitation for the Indu Mills complex land
for a memorial dedicated to B.R. Ambedkar.
Though the Congress-NCP combine has been making appropriate noises
about their uneasy partnership, it remains to be seen in how many
civic bodies the two parties finally manage to hammer out
Both the ruling and the opposition alliances are wary about the
threats posed by the MNS led by the aggressive Raj Thackeray,
which succeeded in wresting control over two municipal committees
The municipal polls last month threw up some surprises - the NCP
won 1,043, the Congress 968, the BJP 342, Shiv Sena 232, MNS 33,
Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) 15, Communist Party of India-Marxist
(CPI-M) 1, other recognised state political parties got 124, local
and smaller parties registered with the State Election Commission
623 and Independents 353.
The total number of wards was 953 and total seats at stake were
In the 2009 assembly elections, the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance had
been severely jolted as the MNS managed to cut into its votes
significantly, reducing the Shiv Sena to the fourth position.