People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 08, 2007
MAHARASHTRA LOCAL BODY ELECTIONS
Left And Secular Forces Must Regroup To Counter Further Attacks
OVER the last four months, statewide local body elections were held in Maharashtra in four phases – municipal council elections in the towns that were held in November 2006 and January 2007, municipal corporation elections in the cities that were held in February 2007 and zilla parishad and panchayat samiti elections that were held in the countryside in March 2007.
THE OVERALL POLITICAL PICTURE
The overall political picture that emerged at the end of this exercise was that the Indian National Congress (INC) won the highest number of seats in the municipal councils, municipal corporations and zilla parishads, closely followed by the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in the zilla parishads and municipal councils, and by the Shiv Sena in the municipal corporations where the NCP came third. In the panchayat samitis, the NCP won the highest number of seats, closely followed by the INC. The major gain for the INC was that it displaced the NCP as the winner in the zilla parishads and nearly managed to displace it in the panchayat samitis as well. The Shiv Sena (SS) and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) came a distant third and fourth in the above four local bodies.
This will be clear from the table below which gives the number of seats won in each tier by the above four main parties and the total seats won in the 2006-07 local body polls:
PARTY ZP SEATS PS SEATS CORPN SEATS MUN SEATS TOTAL WON
Smaller parties like the Samajwadi Party (SP), the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) led by Raj Thackeray, the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Republican groups made some gains in some of the corporation cities, but their performance in the towns and countryside was negligible. The Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), which fought the Raigad district ZP/PS and municipal polls in opportunistic alliance with the Shiv Sena, made some gains in the countryside but lost in the towns. In the rest of the state, the PWP fared poorly, and so did the CPI and JD(S).
The CPI(M), which mostly fought independently on its own strength against all the four established bourgeois parties – INC, NCP, SS and BJP, made some gains in rural Maharashtra which offset some of its losses in urban Maharashtra. It won a total of 46 seats (ZP – 14, PS – 25, Corpn – 3, Mun - 4). The Party won the post of chairperson unopposed in 5 Panchayat Samitis in Thane, Nashik and Yavatmal districts as against the 2 chairpersons that it had earlier. It won the post of vice-chairperson in 4 Panchayat Samitis in Thane and Nashik districts as against 3 that were there earlier. It also won the post of vice-chairperson in the Thane Zilla Parishad. In around 10 districts, there were several ZP/PS and municipal corporation/council seats where Party candidates either stood second or substantially improved upon the votes gained last time. These were all advances over the earlier elections. The details of the CPI(M) performance in these elections have been covered in an earlier report that has appeared in these columns.
GREAT DISCONTENT OF PEOPLE
Actually, there was among the people a great deal of discontent against the INC-NCP state government which has been ruling the state for the last 7 years since 1999.
The deep-rooted agrarian crisis and the continuing spate of suicides of debt-ridden peasants in Vidarbha and elsewhere despite the prime minister’s so-called package; the unbearable load-shedding of power of up to 14 hours per day in the countryside, 6 hours in the towns and 3 hours in the cities; the new proposal to impose a power tariff hike on top of this load-shedding; the miserable plight of agricultural labourers and unorganised workers; the continuing price rise of essential commodities; the collapse of, and corruption in, the public distribution system; the thoroughly unsatisfactory implementation of the NREGA and the EGS; the closure and sickness of thousands of factories; the privatisation of education and health services; the reckless drive to set up SEZs all over the state; the horrific massacre of dalits in Khairlanji and the callous reaction of the state government; the targeting of hundreds of innocent Muslim youth after the recent serial bomb blasts in Mumbai and Malegaon while soft-pedaling the Nanded bomb blasts set off by the RSS-Bajrang Dal; and, of course, the lacklustre performance of the local bodies themselves over the last five years – all these factors clearly went against the state government and the INC and NCP that lord over it.
BUT NO CREDIBLE ALTERNATIVE
But the fact was that there was no credible alternative available. Having experienced the anti-people, communal and corrupt rule of the BJP-SS both in the state and at the centre in the recent past, the suffering people were nevertheless unwilling to give the communal combine a chance. Besides, the two big splits in the SS, with Narayan Rane defecting to the INC and Raj Thackeray floating his own MNS, the murder of BJP top strategist Pramod Mahajan and the consequent infighting within the BJP also took their toll.
The BJP-RSS and the SS did try their best before the elections to use the communal card. The SS also raised the card of Marathi chauvinism, especially in Mumbai and Thane. These cards did help to some extent, but they could not halt the overall decline of the SS-BJP at the hustings, which was of course a welcome development.
But had the INC and NCP concluded a united alliance at least in all the municipal corporation elections, the SS-BJP would have been routed even in Mumbai, Thane, Pune, Nashik and Nagpur, five major cities where they have now installed their mayors and/or deputy mayors. And their debacle here would have further decimated their strength in the ZP/PS polls that followed. But that was not to be.
INC AND NCP: CUT-THROAT COMPETITION
For the INC and NCP targeted each other, and not the SS-BJP communal combine, as their main enemy in the local body polls. Both of them were in a cut-throat competition to cash in on the decline of the SS-BJP. Realising this, the SS-BJP, despite their own internal problems, fought most of the municipal corporation elections and many of the municipal council, zilla parishad and panchayat samiti elections in unison. On the other hand, it was only in the Akola municipal corporation that the INC-NCP had an alliance. In every other local body, whether urban or rural, they fought bitterly against each other, with no holds barred.
However, while an INC-NCP alliance for the municipal corporations, where the SS-BJP have been traditionally strong, was a political necessity, it should not be mechanically assumed that such an alliance in all the local bodies would have demolished the SS-BJP. It, in fact, could have had the opposite effect. This is because such an alliance would have led to unprecedented rebellion in both the INC and the NCP and this could have actually helped the SS-BJP. Besides, in case of such an alliance, the opposition space would have been cornered by the communal combine. The classic example of this is that it was precisely when Sharad Pawar and his Congress(S) rejoined the Congress in the late 1980s that the SS-BJP cornered the opposition space and spread rapidly across Maharashtra, using their rabid communal, casteist and chauvinist cards in addition.
The refusal of the INC and NCP to strike an alliance in major cities like Mumbai and Thane also had another underlying reason. Had the INC-NCP alliance won the Mumbai and Thane municipal corporations, the major share of credit would have gone to Narayan Rane, former SS chief minister who had deserted the SS and had crossed over to the INC. That would have made him a major contender for the chief ministership. Rane also hails from the powerful Maratha caste, and his likely ascent was not to the liking of the rest of the Maratha lobby in both the INC and NCP, including Sharad Pawar, Vilasrao Deshmukh, R R Patil and others. And so they all scuttled the alliance at the last moment on flimsy grounds and preferred to hand over Mumbai and Thane on a silver platter to the SS-BJP rather than see the possible emergence of a new threat to their own fiefdoms.
OPPORTUNISTIC POLITICAL TRAPEZE
The highpoint of the INC-NCP battle was reached in Pune, where the NCP and SS-BJP came together to isolate the INC, which had been cut down to size after having ruled over Pune for nearly two decades. This alliance elected a NCP mayor and a SS deputy mayor. After the last local body polls also, both the INC and NCP had tied up in several places with the SS-BJP to undercut each other and they merrily ran the local bodies for five years in alliance with the communalists. So much for their commitment to secularism!
After the NCP was attacked by the INC for its opportunistic alliance in Pune, Sharad Pawar released a whole list of the places where the INC had concluded similarly dubious alliances. He went on to say that so far as the next Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections were concerned, if a fair seat-sharing arrangement was not offered by the INC, all options were open for the NCP! This statement was immediately welcomed by SS supremo Bal Thackeray, who offered to make Sharad Pawar the prime minister if he crossed over to the communal combine! Such is the political trapeze now going on in Maharashtra.
NEED TO COUNTER COMING ATTACKS
Meanwhile, the local body election results are hardly likely to be a source of any relief to the working people of Maharashtra. The INC-NCP leadership and their state government, who will be under the illusion that they have won these elections, are likely to ride even more roughshod over the people with their policies of liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation in every sphere. The SS-BJP, who subscribe to the very same policies, will try to divert the people by their time-worn communal slogans and antics. It is for the Left and secular forces to reach the people and firmly counter both these attacks.
No statewide third alternative could be formed in these local body elections. But particular mention must be made of Nagpur city, where all left, secular and Republican groups of all hues came together, concluded a perfect seat-sharing arrangement and fought the elections unitedly. This was a result of mass pressure following the Khairlanji dalit massacre which took place in the adjoining Bhandara district. Considerable sections of the Muslim masses, who were disillusioned with the INC-NCP, also supported this front in the elections. Consequently, the secular combine won 10 seats in the municipal corporation, which showed the potential gains that such a unity could have elsewhere.
Similar efforts to form a secular alternative were made in Mumbai, Nashik, Solapur and elsewhere, but they could not succeed due to the vastly exaggerated demands of all the constituents barring the CPI(M). Here also there was a great potential for attracting the dalits, Muslims and sections of the working people from all communities. But it could not be realised due to the failure to form a united alternative.
It is, of course, true that such an alternative can never be forged merely on the eve of elections. It must be the result of sustained joint struggles on people’s burning issues. Towards this end, after the successful joint struggle on the Enron issue, the three Left parties in Maharashtra – the CPI(M), CPI and PWP – had come together in 2003 to organise a large joint convention and mass rally at Alibag in Raigad district and it was addressed by CPI(M) Polit Bureau member and West Bengal chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharya. The joint convention had also adopted a common political document and a comprehensive demands charter.
But the process could not be taken forward for various reasons, the most important being the PWP alliance with the Shiv Sena in Raigad district. Efforts were also made later to have some joint actions with the above Left parties and the Bharatiya Republican Party-Bahujan Mahasangh led by Prakash Ambedkar, but no common understanding could be reached at the state level for the local body elections. In some districts, however, there was an understanding and seat-sharing between the CPI(M), CPI, PWP and some of the Republican groups and other small secular parties.
Lok Sabha elections are due in another two years and the Vidhan Sabha elections in two and a half years. In the light of the results of the local body polls, the CPI(M) will have to firmly gear itself up to unleash mass struggles on people’s burning issues, to take its revolutionary politics to the people, to organisationally strengthen the Party and the mass organisations and to bring other Left and secular forces together in struggle.
The CPI(M) Maharashtra state committee that will meet this month will conduct a detailed political-organisational and self-critical review of the local body elections; it will also review the implementation of the one year plan for Party development that was adopted by the state committee in October 2005; it will take stock of the 2007 Party renewal campaign; and in the light of these three reviews, it will prepare the blueprint for further advance of the Party and mass organisations in Maharashtra.