Now that the results of the municipal councils and town panchayats are out, a lot of political meanings can be found in them.
For instance, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the maximum number of councils, seats, and even directly elected presidents, which shows BJP’s demonetised policy as being accepted by the people. This analysis falls by the wayside when the number of such gains are smaller than the victories of the BJP, Congress, and NCP added up — they all have opposed demonetisation.
BJP could well use this as a kind of public opinion in favour of demonetisation, a kind of a mini-referendum in a major state ruled by it. But that would be twisting the statistics, seeking comfort in the fact that it has not won the majority of the council and majority of councillors. By glossing over it, a perception would be sought to be conveyed that despite hardships of not getting speedy replacement of currencies which are now not legal tender.
But, in a first-past-the-post system in our democracy, we would have to perforce buy BJP’s argument. It's not that the other parties would have avoided such a spin; they too would have marketed any similar victory. Even now they could, but the point is that civic polls are not on demonetisation, but have to be on pure local civic issues — not even politics, but on how a city is, its condition, its resources, and how best they are managed.
Two, that the town from where Pankaja Munde, daughter of late Gopinath Munde, who was once, though only briefly, seen as his heir apparent for even the top job in Maharashtra slipped out of the BJP’s hand. That is her political comeuppance, and perhaps little to do with the Parliament’s civic management. Family issues too played a nuanced role in her party’s defeat.
Three, Narayan Rane, the self-styled Congress and Maratha strongman, hasn’t had his own man elected directly as a town president. Nor, another former chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan’s town, Karad now sees a BJP man as the municipal president, which is quite an uncomfortable situation for him. Thus, a strongmen’s failure can be listed. Even BJP’s state chief could not keep his bailiwick in the party’s fold.
That is one part of the story, rather an unfortunate part, and a traditional way of looking at all things from the political prism. Much like major and minor political parties taking contradictory stances in parliament, depending on whether they are on the treasury or opposition side. What they did once in power is to be condemned when in opposition, even if the successor only carries forward a plan, a policy, an idea.
What is likely to ensue in the medium term at least is a large number of cities and towns where the directly-elected civic president does not belong to the party which has a majority in the municipal council, much like the handicap Barack Obama had to suffer when the Congress was held by a majority Republican. He had the veto, but he tried to reason too, a maturity most US presidents have shown.
In town after town where the president is from a party in minority in the general body, you can be assured of a serious crisis which could well ensure that the city suffered setbacks in the very purpose which civic elections are held — to ensure a local self-government, where the purpose is to get the citizenry its basic facilities. What a president proposes can be rejected, though the president has a larger mandate being directly elected.
Local self-government is not about politics at all but of local issues concerning the town’s management. In 1974, when civic presidents were directly elected by voters from across the urban and even semi-urban spaces, unlike the councillors who have their mandates from only a small part of it, the conflicts between them arose. At that time, many well-meaning individuals had come together to unseat the undesirable leaders, and suffered in the bargain.
Observers cite the example of Nashik then when an independent candidate put up by the people became the city father in direct elections, the Congress refused to cooperate, and tried to and did, block each of his proposals. It wasn't a case of doing the wrong thing with the city, but because the humbled couldn’t bear the insult. The general body was ranged against him till the party elder then asked them to fall in line. Such wisdom is hard to find these days.
These towns could well be held to ransom by the machinations of the petty politicians. It would be so regardless of which party had the majority in the general body and which party nominee was the directly-elected civic elder. The hoped-for improvements may not materialise, unless, each time, behind the scenes, they make deals, so common to politics these days. Damn the town, but feather the nests.