Mumbai: The Devendra Fadnavis government’s decision to hold direct election of sarpanchs (gram panchayat heads) has clearly paid off for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as it secured a comprehensive victory in the first phase of gram panchayat polls on Monday.

In the first phase on 7 October, 3,884 gram panchayats went to polls out of which results of 2,974 bodies were declared by 7pm on Monday. Out of this, the BJP has won 1,457, followed by Congress (301), Shiv Sena (222) and Nationalist Congress Party (194).

These 3,884 gram panchayats are spread over 18 districts in Marathwada, Vidarbha and North Maharashtra regions. Except for a couple of setbacks in Parali in Beed district of Marathwada where the NCP and Buldhana district in Vidarbha where the Congress emerged victorious, the BJP registered an impressive show, winning a majority of gram panchayats as well as the posts of sarpanchs in the first ever direct election.

For the BJP, the results could not have come at more opportune time as the Fadnavis government was at the receiving end of a fierce unrest over farm loan waiver and remunerative prices.

In July this year, the Fadnavis government announced a decision to hold direct elections of village heads unlike the previous system in which the elected gram sevaks or village councillors would elect the sarpanch. Maharashtra has 28,332 gram panchayats.

In May last year, the BJP-led government took a similar decision for the direct election of municipal council presidents and the move paid off for the BJP, which emerged the single largest party in the municipal council polls held in multiple phases during November 2016 and January 2017.

The BJP kept up its victory run in the zilla parishad polls too, held around the same time, emerging as the single largest party. In February 2017, the BJP completely dominated the polls to 10 municipal corporations including Mumbai where it was a close second to the Shiv Sena.

The first phase of gram panchayat polls included all eight districts of Marathwada namely Aurangabad, Beed, Latur, Osmanabad, Nanded, Parbhani, Jalna and Hingoli. By 7pm, results were available for 356 gram panchayat bodies in Beed district where the BJP had won 203. In Aurangabad, the BJP had won 72 of the 90 gram panchayats.

In Jalna, the BJP captured 163 gram panchayats out of 272 and 151 out of 250 in Latur for which the results were declared.

In North Maharashtra, the BJP made impressive gains in Jalgaon, Nandurbar and Dhule districts. In Vidarbha, the BJP dominated Yavatmal, Washim and Akola districts, but it was the Congress which trounced the BJP in Buldhana district. In Ahmednagar and Nashik districts too which saw an intense farm protest in April and May this year, the BJP emerged the single largest party, winning a majority of gram panchayats and posts of sarpanchs.

BJP state unit president Raosaheb Danve said the results of the first phase of the gram panchayat polls confirmed his party’s all-round dominance across Maharashtra. “The victory comes on the back of the hat-trick of victories we scored in municipal council, zilla parishad and municipal corporation polls. The victory proves that the measures and welfare programmes that the Modi government and the Fadnavis government are implementing are reaching the rural population," said Danve in a statement.

For the second phase, polling for 3,692 gram panchayats spread over 16 districts would be held on 14 October and the votes would be counted on 16 October.

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