Are Thackeray and Pawar still relevant? 16 Feb polls will tell

By Abhay Vaidya

Will the Shiv Sena suffer a fractured mandate in the forthcoming civic polls which will lead to the “political irrerlevance” of the party chief, Balasaheb Thackeray,  as Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan put it recently?

Will the uncle-nephew team of NCP president Sharad Pawar and Deputy Chief Minister Ajitdada realise their dream of wresting full control of the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) after the 16 February civic polls in Maharashtra?

These two questions will be uppermost when 10 municipal corporations go to the polls  later next week and the mother of battles is fought in Mumbai and Pune.

Just as the Sena-BJP is making an all-out effort to retain its hold of 20 years over the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with an annual budget of Rs 20,000 crore, the Pawar duo is pursuing its own big dream.

Will the Shiv Sena suffer a fractured mandate in the forthcoming civic polls? Reuters

Led by Sharad Pawar, the NCP is feverently appealing to voters to reject the Congress with whom it has an alliance in the state, and give itself a full majority. The NCP and Congress are contesting all the 152 seats in 72 panels separately for the polls to the PMC which has an  annual budget of Rs 3,200 crore.

“The NCP has shown the kind of development work it carries out in the Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation. It has happened because the party has a full majority,” Sharad Pawar explained at a recent press meet in Pune.

The neighbouring Pimpri-Chinchwad Municipal Corporation (PCMC) has always been under the firm control of the Pawars even in pre-NCP days. The Pawars see a distinct opportunity of expanding this control to Pune, especially as the scam-tainted MP, Suresh Kalmadi, is at his weakest and has been forced to stay put in Delhi due to the Commonwealth Games-related court cases.

However, it’s not been easy to write off Kalmadi who has been proclaiming his innocence till proven guilty. Even after spending nine months in Tihar Jail and being suspended from the Congress, Kalmadi continues to have a dominant say in the Pune Congress. The key office bearers of the Pune unit, and a majority of the sitting corporators and candidates fielded  by the Congress come from his support base.  Thus, the orchestrated spectacle of a “hero’s welcome” to Kalmadi early this month in Pune was least surprising.

As it is, Kalmadi has been burning the wires from Delhi and telephonically giving instructions to the city Congress in Pune. Even though Chief Minister Chavan, state Congress President Manikrao Thakre and senior leaders Patangrao Kadam and Harshvardhan Patil have been holding fort in Pune, they have remained soft on Kalmadi. Everyone knows of his influence with the grassroots cadre and that he alone can take on the Pawars.

Pune represents a critical battle for the Pawars as they have never had full control of the PMC even though they hail from this district. The closest they have come to achieving this was during the “Pune Pattern” period after the 2007 civic elections when the NCP managed to deny power to the Congress by joining hands with the Shiv Sena– BJP.

This time around, the NCP kept Pune out of its pre-poll alliance with the Congress for the civic polls as it sees a distinct opportunity to grab power.

Pointing to the impressive infrastructure projects that the NCP has executed in Pimpri-Chinchwad, the Pawars have been promising speedy development for Pune. A metro rail “in five years” and the integrated development of the Pune Metropolitan region is their promise as the PCMC is already under the NCP.

The desire for political control over Pune is high as the city is  one of India’s rapidly expanding metros and an industrial, IT and educational hub. Numerous real estate and infrastructure projects are planned and ongoing. At least two of these are related to transportation, namely the BRTS (Bus Rapid Transit System) and the metro rail.

There’s the promise of prime real estate development along the route of the metro. Satellite townships are coming up around the city, most notably, Lavasa, which has been associated with the Pawars.

It is a fact that the lack of mass transportation is the biggest pain point for Punekars and, like in previous elections, the politicians are promising to fix that if elected to power.

Daggers are drawn and political ambitions are at their sharpest in Mumbai and Pune. More than anyone in the Congress, the results will have an impact on the image of the three Thackerays, the two Pawars and Suresh Kalmadi.

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