Even as all attention has been on the fascinating battles and big-time defections in the five states going for assembly elections, starting next month, there are preparations within the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other parties to retain or capture a big chunk of urban votes in four mega cities. This summer there will be elections to the municipal corporations of Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru. Though they consist of 20 Lok Sabha constituencies, the urban mood is critical to determine statewide and national fortunes in general election, the next due in 2024.
The fast-changing political equations in some of these cities since the 2019 Lok Sabha election also contribute to the interest levels. While the BJP controls all the three municipal corporations of Delhi, viz., that of North, South and East Delhi, the Shiv Sena has been maintaining its control over Mumbai for a long time. Both Chennai and Bengaluru civic bodies are under state government-appointed administrators.
Normally, these civic elections are local in nature though they involve political parties. But five years ago, the then BJP president Amit Shah had made the fight for the three Delhi corporations assume greater significance with a personal campaign, and managed to ward off the challenge of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) which had humbled BJP in the state assembly election. Shah also lent his heavyweight support when the BJP challenged the domination of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) for the control of the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation, with several national leaders campaigning. Party organisation general secretary B L Santhosh had visited Hyderabad to supervise the campaign. The BJP became principal opposition by shaking but not dislodging the TRS.
Shah had said that the party must plot success for urban body elections in all states the same way it prepared for general election. There are cells set up in party-ruled states for tracking developments in the corporations of metropolitan and tier-two cities. Now BJP has to defend its turf in Delhi and Bengaluru, while it is the challenger in Mumbai. The party has no hopes in Chennai where it will leave ally AIADMK to take on the dominant DMK, which runs the state government.
What is at stake for Congress, AAP
Unlike the centralised approach of the BJP, Congress high command does not get over-involved in local elections and gives autonomy to state and city units. While the party hopes that it can be a junior partner of the DMK in Chennai and Shiv Sena in mumbai, it would be a serious challenger in Bengaluru, but it is a pale shadow of itself in Delhi, where again the AAP hopes to unseat the BJP.
After coming a close second to the BJP in last month's Chandigarh municipal polls, Arvind Kejriwal has asked his Delhi team to make a strong pitch in all three civic bodies of the national capital. With a combined budget of Rs 12,000 crore, the three corporations control a large chunk of city services and own assets. However, key areas like New Delhi and the Delhi Cantonment are with the central government.
But the big prize is the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation with a humongous annual budget of Rs 39,000 crore, as it controls roads, schools, hospitals and markets. Property tax collection is also highest in the nation's commercial capital. The Shiv Sena-BJP combination had swept the 2017 civic elections with Sena getting 97 and BJP bagging 82 seats in the 236-member body. But as the two parties fought bitterly and separated in 2019, Sena retained power by the support of its new allies Congress (31) and NCP (nine). Now BJP is fighting alone for the first time and will take on the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, the political coalition of Sena, Congress and NCP parties which are jointly ruling the state. However, some Sena leaders are suggesting the party should go alone, but it is seen more as a pressure tactic.
In Bengaluru, it would be a direct battle between the BJP and the Congress which control power in the 198-member chamber alternately. The Janata Dal (Secular) may pick up a few seats in a few pockets.
The two other metropolises — Kolkata and Ahmedabad — had their civic elections last year, with the Trinamool Congress and the BJP winning massive majorities.