Maharashtra’s ruling parties claim panchayat polls win. Opposition says ‘true picture only in 2024′

Mumbai: Less than six months before next year’s General Elections and amid the heat over the Maratha reservation issue, Maharashtra’s ruling alliance MahaYuti claimed to have got a shot in the arm Monday with a “massive victory” in local gram panchayat elections held across different parts of Maharashtra.

The MahaYuti is the name given to an alliance of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led Shiv Sena, and the Nationalist Congress Party faction led by Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar.

Elections to Maharashtra’s 2,359 gram panchayats and 130 vacant sarpanch posts were held across Marathwada, Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha, and Konkan Sunday. Gram panchayat elections in Maharashtra are not fought on party symbols, although on the ground, contestants often align with parties.

Even as counting was still underway, BJP claimed to have secured over 1,000 gram panchayats — according to it, the highest number in the state. State BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule told the media Monday evening that over 1,700 would be with the MahaYuti. “Interestingly, 60 percent of these were with MVA,” he added.

But the opposition MVA — an alliance of the Congress, the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP, and the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) — contests the ruling alliance’s claim.

Speaking to reporters Monday, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) chief Nana Patole called BJP’s statements “false”. 

“If they have the courage, they should take the local body elections instead,” he told reporters in Mumbai. 

Monday’s developments come ahead of not only next year’s General Election but also the Maharashtra assembly polls, which will be held in the second half of next year. It also comes at a time when the ruling parties are in a spot over reservations for Marathas — a politically powerful group that forms 33 percent of the state’s population and is mainly concentrated in Marathwada.

But political observers caution against laying too much weight on Sunday’s polls, saying it’s difficult to draw up any discernible trends. Their main reason is that the gram panchayats that went to polls were scattered and the electoral base was much smaller than parliamentary or even assembly constituencies. 

“I don’t see any trend here as these elections are fought in a constituency of say 500 people. There is not much to read out of this as it will not be an indication to state elections or even corporation elections that have much larger constituencies,” political analyst Prakash Akolkar told ThePrint.

But this hasn’t deterred the state’s ruling parties from claiming influence over rural Maharashtra. “Over the past year, our government has worked towards giving justice to all stakeholders in the society. Whatever projects were stalled by the MVA government, we worked hard to get them restarted. And this is a faith that people have shown in us,” CM Eknath Shinde said to the media on Monday. 

On his part, Praful Patel, a Rajya Sabha MP and a senior leader of the Ajit Pawar faction, congratulated the deputy chief minister in a post on X Monday evening. 

“As we move forward, let us reiterate our unwavering commitment to the development of Maharashtra at the grassroots level. Together we will empower gram panchayats, develop infrastructure, enhance education, healthcare, and prosperity for every citizen,” he wrote. 

Major upsets 

Although these results are still debatable given how panchayat elections function, the developments in some places stand out. For instance, Ajit Pawar’s faction appears to have swept Baramati — for decades a Pawar family stronghold. There, his panel claims to have secured 30 of 32 gram panchayats.

Baramati has been in the Pawar family for generations — of the 14 elections he fought in the last 50 years of his political career, all except one was from the parliamentary constituency. 

Currently, his daughter Supriya Sule represents the Lok Sabha seat. His nephew Ajit, on the other hand, is an MLA from there.  

Significantly, the Sharad Pawar faction of the NCP did not contest the elections in Baramati at all.

There were also other major upsets. For instance, Karjat Jamkhed — the assembly constituency of Rohit Pawar, the grandnephew of Sharad Pawar — went to former Maharashtra minister and senior BJP leader Ram Shinde’s panel. 

Likewise, in Bhandara, considered the stronghold of MPCC chief Nana Patole, his panel lost to the BJP.

Another one came from Maharashtra’s minister for cooperation and senior leader of the Ajit Pawar faction, Dilip Walse Patil’s bastion in Pune’s Ambegaon. Here, Patil’s panel lost to its own alliance partner, the Shiv Sena. 

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena’s Sangola MLA Shahajibapu Patil’s panels lost gram panchayats in that assembly constituency.

Despite the upset, Karjat Jamkhed MLA Rohit Pawar believes these elections indicate nothing. 

“In my constituency, I did not supervise things personally,” Rohit Pawar told reporters Monday. “Those who win are ours while those who lose are also ours. So if anyone is making a trend for Lok Sabha or Vidhan Sabha from this, then I want to wish them luck.”

Also Read: ‘Was shocked!’ In updated autobiography, Sharad Pawar bares all on MVA fall, Sena rebellion, nephew Ajit

MVA’s counterclaims

The MVA, meanwhile, has also been making counterclaims. Former Maharashtra home minister and a leader of NCP’s Sharad Pawar faction Anil Deshmukh claimed that in Nagpur, MVA won 60 percent of gram panchayats 

“The BJP can make tall claims about the state. In one month, the picture will be clear in five state elections,” he told the media, referring to elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Mizoram, Chhattisgarh, and Telangana. 

He further said: “Here also, when Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena UBT chief Uddhav Thackeray, and Congress leaders will tour the state ahead of Lok Sabha elections, the picture will be clear. For now, let the BJP claim anything”. 

Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Ambadas Danve, too, believes that these elections didn’t throw up any clear trend. According to him, in some places, the MVA won the sarpanch post but its panel lost other positions, while in some others, the panel won but the sarpanch candidates lost.

“Trend will be clear in the Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections (next year),” Danve told ThePrint.

Political observers also point out that it’s not uncommon to see parties making contradictory claims of victories in these elections, where weight is given to local persons over political parties.

“The smaller the canvas, the more the weight of the (individual) candidate goes up,” political analyst Abhay Deshpande told ThePrint. “The state-level issues could have some impact but not so much as to call it a trend.”

(Edited by Uttara Ramaswamy)

Also Read:Triple engine sarkaar’ in Maharashtra. How Ajit Pawar’s rebellion queers pitch for Shinde, MVA


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