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Maharashtra gears up for second round of civic polls

Wednesday January 04, 2012 01:32:04 PM, IANS

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Mumbai: Maharashtra 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 assembly elections.

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 of days.

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 well off.

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 alliances.

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 last month.

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 3,847.

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.





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