Mumbai: Even as demonetisation and the consequent currency crisis play out in rural Maharashtra, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is hard-selling his government’s development agenda in the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) campaign for the municipal council polls in the state.
Fadnavis is leading an aggressive campaign for elections to 164 municipal councils spread over 25 districts on 27 November.
Apparently conscious of the impact of demonetisation, particularly on farmers and the farm supply chain, Fadnavis has sought to link the currency ban with nationalism.
Addressing an election rally in Ratnagiri on Monday, Fadnavis said those who were opposing demonetisation were “anti-national”.
In Amravati district of Vidarbha on Wednesday, he repeated prime minister Narendra Modi’s call for giving him “50 days”.
However, the better part of BJP’s election campaign under Fadnavis’s leadership has kept to the development agenda. The party is trying to looking to exploit the direct elections for municipal council presidents to challenge the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) dominance in Maharashtra’s smaller cities and townships.
“The direct election measure that we introduced earlier this year has allowed us to field respectable local candidates in several places. In some towns, we have also fielded Muslim candidates who are committed to the theme of development and who probably would not have been able to come up through the previous system when municipal council presidents would be elected by the elected councillors,” said a member of BJP’s election management committee requesting anonymity.
BJP has also deployed all its senior ministers in the campaign, assigning them different regions, while the chief minister plays the pan-Maharashtra campaigner. In a careful strategy, keeping in mind Maharashtra’s caste combinations and the Maratha mobilization, the BJP has roped in leaders of all castes.
By focusing on development, the BJP campaign so far has tried to play down demonetisation. “We can’t let demonetisation become the main story of these elections though we are conscious that we cannot run away from it. But we are also trying to tell people what we have done in two years in Maharashtra in terms of civic issues like sanitation, housing, water supply, and better integration of towns with major cities,” said a BJP minister tasked with campaigning in Marathwada.
This minister, who did not wish to be identified, said the BJP hoped to make gains especially in municipal council elections over its performance five years back. “But for that to happen, we need to have a normal election where local issues of development top the agenda and not demonetisation. It is difficult but we are trying to set the agenda,” the minister said.
Fadnavis has talked about the rapid urbanization happening in Maharashtra and criticized the previous Congress-NCP rule for not “considering urbanization as an opportunity”. Of the 164 municipal councils which go polls on November 27, 147 will also elect their municipal council presidents through direct elections, which have been introduced by the BJP-led government.
Earlier, elected councillors would elect municipal council president. Earlier this year, the BJP-led government introduced direct election of municipal council presidents, which, according to the BJP minister, was aimed at “creating space for the BJP in municipal councils dominated by Congress-NCP and also make civic governance more accountable”.
In such towns, Fadnavis has talked about the Union government’s “housing for all programme”. “The message being conveyed to towns is that they will get better civic services and governance if they elect BJP councillors and municipal council presidents for a better political coordination among the local government, state government, and the centre,” said the BJP minister quoted earlier.