The Congress Bhavan and the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) headquarters located in Shivajinagar in Pune are separated only by a small lane. It was only incidental that the Congress-ruled the Pune Municipal Corporation during the post-independent period for decades until its splinter group, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), took over the reigns a decade ago.
The two neighbours i.e. The Congress Bhavan and the Pune Municipal Corporation had close ties besides their physical proximity. With the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) storming into the Congress-NCP stronghold in 2017, the decades-old rule of the Congress in the civic body has come to an end. In the 162-member House, the BJP is now the ruling party while the Congress has been pushed back to the third-place members. The NCP is a strong force in the civic body.
The PMC, established as a municipal council in 1858, was made a municipal corporation in 1950. The post-independent era witnessed the consecutive rule of the Congress in the PMC, but in later decades, members of Jan Sangh and Shiv Sena were also a part of the civic body.
In the 1970s, Nagari Sanghatana, a political front, gained prominence in the PMC and its corporators like Bhai Vaidya also occupied the mayoral posts. In the late 1970s, Maharashtra witnessed the first non-Congress government, the Purogami Lok Dal government led by Sharad Pawar. After the failure of the Janata Party government experiment in the country in 1980, many of the Nagari Sanghatana corporators joined the Congress. This led to the monopoly of the Congress rule in the civic body for over two decades.
In the 1980s and till the mid-1990s, the Congress corporators were led by senior party leaders VN Gadgil and Jayantrao Tilak. Vitthalrao Gadgil, who was a senior parliamentarian and also a Union minister for a brief spell, was also a critic and rival of Congress leader Sharad Pawar. During those years, Gadgil played a dominant role in the PMC’s affairs. Suresh Kalmadi who was a member of the Rajya Sabha for three terms had absolutely no role in the municipal corporation affairs.
Gadgil’s rule in PMC was demolished by Kalmadi soon after he was elected as the city’s Lok Sabha member in 1996. He gained control over the affairs in the PMC. After hobnobbing with the BJP and Shiv Sena for a short spell when the Congress denied him a ticket for the Lok Sabha seat in 1998, he rejoined the Congress immediately after Sharad Pawar quit the party to form the NCP.
Kalmadi-led Congress lost power in PMC in 2007, when the NCP emerged as the single largest party in the municipal corporation. NCP leader Ajit Pawar then took over the reigns of power in PMC and the NCP joined hands with the BJP and Shiv Sena to form the ruling group. This came to be known as the Pune Pattern, implemented with the sole aim of keeping the Kalmadi-led Congress away from power.
After the 2012 elections, however, the NCP shared the power in the PMC with Congress. By then, the Kalmadi’s dominance in the city Congress had diminished as Kalmadi, then a local Lok Sabha Member was in Tihar Jail in connection with the Commonwealth Games scam.
In a way, the end of Kalmadi’s political career also meant the end of the decades long Congress rule in the civic body. Since then, the city Congress has not been able to find a political leader of the stature of V. N. Gadgil, Jayantrao Tilak or even Kalmadi.
Vishwajeet Kadam had started taking interest in the affairs of the city, Congress soon projected him as the party’s candidate from the Pune Lok Sabha seat. However, his defeat in the 2014 Parliamentary polls put brakes on his ambition to fill in the vacuum in the city Congress caused by Kalmadi’s absence.
With the emergence of the BJP as the new ruling group in the PMC, city MP Girish Bapat called the shots in the PMC.
With Uddhav Thackeray of the Shiv Sena forming government in Maharashtra along with the NCP and the Congress, equations have once again changed in the state and also in Pune Municipal Corporation. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar who is also the Pune District Guardian Minister is now in a position to control the affairs of the PMC.
The visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to Pune and also to the Pune Municipal Corporation on Sunday, March 6, has significance in the light of the forthcoming elections to the Pune Municipal Corporation.
(Camil Parkhe is a senior journalist based in Pune. He started his journalism career in Goa and has worked in various newspapers in different capacities.)