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Sandeep Sahu

The results of the just concluded urban polls have left all three major parties with plenty to think about.

With just 144 out of the 1884 councillor/corporator posts - only marginally above the 138 won by 'others', mainly independents - only seven of the 105 chairperson posts and a measly 12% of the vote share, the Congress clearly has the most to worry about. The fact that it 'improved' on its performance in the three-tier panchayat elections, in which it won just 37 of the 852 zilla parishad seats (accounts for 4%) by notching up 8% of the councillor/corporator posts in the municipal elections is no consolation for the oldest party in the country, which has been in a steady freefall in the state since it lost power in 2000. Nor can the party take solace from the fact that it put up a spirited fight in the election to the Mayor's post in the Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC) because it managed to secure just one seat out of the 42 in Berhampur Municipal corporation (BeMC), its former bastion.

The BJP too has little to rejoice about despite the fact that it won 312 councillor/corporator posts, and 16 chairperson posts, a considerable improvement in its performance in the zila parishad elections where it had won just 42 out of the 852 seats up for grabs and could not form the zila parishad in even one of the 30 districts. Long seen as a party with a larger support base in urban areas than in the rural areas, the party managed to secure just 27% of the vote share, significantly lower than the 32% it had won in the assembly elections and 38% in the Lok Sabha elections in 2019.

Despite winning 1289 out of the 1884 councillor/corporator posts and a thumping majority - including the chairperson's posts - in all three corporations, even the BJD has a few things to be concerned about. For one thing, the fact that it could not win the chairperson's posts in several municipal bodies even though it won a majority of councillor/corporator posts in them is certainly a dampener, coming as it does closely on the heels of the party winning the zilla parishad chairperson's posts in all 30 districts of the state. For another, the all-conquering ruling party has suffered significant reverses in Ganjam district, the party's bastion and the home district of the party supremo and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik losing the chairperson's posts in seven urban local bodies to the BJP, Congress and independents. The fact that it lost the chairperson posts in many other ULBs, including some in its fortress in coastal Odisha, also does not augur well for the party.

More than causing headache for the three major contenders, however, the results of the municipal elections, have created the possibility of instability sometime in the future in several ULBs. This is because the people have given a split verdict in several ULBs in the first election where chairpersons were elected directly. This has led to a peculiar situation in many of them where one party - or an independent - has the chairperson post while another party has the majority of councillors, a sure recipe for instability and tug of war. Of course, things would simmer beneath the surface for the next two years during which there can be no trust vote as per rules. But once the two-year lock in period is over, there is bound to be a spate of no confidence motions, which could completely change the complexion of the urban bodies as they look now.

Most winning chairpersons in ULBs where their party has failed to muster a majority have made the right noises, saying they would 'work with' and 'take along' all councillors irrespective of their party affiliation. But such assertions have to be taken with a bagful of salt, given how polarised politics in the state is. The possibility of parties trying to circumvent the anti detection law by luring away more than one third of the councillors and thereby causing a split in another party in an effort to hold complete sway over the ULB cannot be ruled out. Long used to enjoying untrammelled power, the BJD, in particular, can be trusted to leave no stone unturned to have party leaders heading the ULBs where its nominees failed to get elected in the just concluded elections. The independents, the vast majority of whom are BJD rebels, can be trusted to come back to the fold because they won't attract the provisions of the anti defection law. Efforts to woo the rebels have already started and are sure to be intensified in the days ahead.

While the results have created the prospects of instability, there has been at least one positive outcome. The 'officer raj' that prevailed in the urban areas for the last one decade would finally come to an end and there would be a representative, accountable body managing the affairs of the ULBs.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.)

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