The Congress on Thursday retained control over the prestigious Nanded-Waghala City Municipal Corporation (NWCMC), bagging a staggering 69 of the 77 seats in the 81-seat body and decimating the opposition.
The Congress hopes to win a few more seats as counting continued for the remaining four wards in the NWCMC, a stronghold of Maharashtra party chief Ashok Chavan, where elections were held on Wednesday.
The Congress not only retained hold over NWCMC but also hugely improved its tally compared to 2012 when it had secured 41 seats, proving a major morale booster for the party reeling under a saffron onslaught.
"With this one-sided victory in Nanded, the 'comeback' of the Congress and 'return journey' for the Bharatiya Janata Party in Maharashtra has begun. The Congress has wiped out BJP, after our (Congress) recent victories in Gram Panchayat elections," an elated Chavan told mediapersons.
Attributing the outcome to the people of Nanded, Chavan said they had "reposed full faith" in the developmental agenda of the Congress and rejected the "divisive politics" plus "below-the-belt" campaigning indulged in by BJP leaders.
The opposition led by BJP bagged six seats while its ruling ally in the Centre and the state, Shiv Sena, got just a single seat. An independent candidate also got one seat.
A prominent contender, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM), was overwhelmed by the Congress juggernaut and finally lost the race in this famed Sikh pilgrimage centre.
Sitting on 11 seats in the outgoing house, the AIMIM claimed to have the support of the minority and Dalit voters, but the results proved otherwise.
The Congress' ally, the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), failed to secure a single seat, a State Election Commission (SEC) official said.
In 2012, the Congress bagged 41 seats, Shiv Sena 14, AIMIM 11, NCP 10, BJP two while independents notched three seats.
The 2017 elections outcome proved a huge setback to the BJP, Shiv Sena, NCP and AIMIM though some optimistic BJP leaders claimed the party which held two seats earlier (2012) had tripled its performance by capturing six seats.
An NDA ally, Maharashtra Swabhiman Party President Narayan Rane, minced no words in criticizing the BJP-Sena for the rout in Nanded.
"The Chief Minister (Devendra Fadnavis) and Shiv Sena President (Uddhav Thackeray) personally held so many election rallies. And this is what they got? Their leadership must carry out a serious introspection and soul searching," Rane said, without taking names.
BJP spokesperson Madhav Bhandari termed the results as "victory for Ashok Chavan and not the Congress".
Shiv Sena spokesperson Neelam Gorhe hit back saying the outcome was "a result of people's anger against the BJP's policies and a setback to Fadnavis".
Both the Congress and the BJP had made it a battle of prestige to wrest control of the civic body in the historical town renowned for the Hazoor Sahib Gurudwara, one of the five holy Sikh Takhts and the resting place of Guru Gobind Singh.
For the first time in Maharashtra, the SEC deployed VVPAT (voter verified paper audit trail) voting machines in 31 polling centres in Ward No 2 as a pilot project in the elections which recorded a 65 per cent turnout.
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