Maharashtra Polls: Cong’ battle for survival

Nothing seems to go well for the Congress. Ever since its poor performance and major loss in the recent General election, the party remains in the news, but not for any good reasons. One of these, rather the main, is the spree of desertions and resignations of its leaders in various States. Maharashtra happens to among these, which is slated to go to Assembly polls along with Haryana and Jharkhand.

Recently, taking a dig at the Congress, BJP President and Home Minister Amit Shah said its leaders are making a beeline to join the BJP and if the party opens the doors for these leaders, only Former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan would be left in the grand old party!

Given the spree of desertions and resignations that the party is witnessing in the State, the present scenario only gives credence to Shah’s words. The recent leaders to quit the party are former Congress Mumbai chief, Kripasankar Singh, and former Cabinet minister, Harshvardhan Patil and cross over the fence to the BJP. The list of resignations also includes former Bollywood actress Urmila Matondkar, who had joined the party in the presence of Rahul Gandhi just before the Lok Sabha elections, hitting headlines and being given a ticket from Mumbai North seat, where she had to bite the dust.

Although Urmila hasn’t given any hints about her next political venture, she has cited petty in-house politics for calling it a day in the Congress. It is worth recalling that it was new entrants like Urmila, with no political skills and managing to get tickets, which peeved Congress spokesperson Priyanka Chaturvedi. She was hoping for a party ticket from Mumbai, but having failed chose to quit and join the Shiv Sena in the midst of that poll campaign. So, resignations such as that of Urmila’s, which doesn’t have much political significance, but helps the party get some limelight, shows the party is unable to put its house in order in Maharashtra, just like other States after the drubbing it got.

With Assembly elections drawing closer, such resignations only add to the voters’ observation that the Congress may just as well fail to secure enough seats to become the largest Opposition party, forget its capacity to defeat BJP alliance. According to reports, Congress and Sharad Pawar’s NCP are going to contest 123-125 seats each in the 289-member House, leaving the rest to its allies. In the previous Assembly polls, the two had contested independently and the Congress barely managed to bag the main Opposition party status by winning 42 seats — one more than the NCP. Importantly, Congress with 18% votes was ahead of NCP with only 0.8% votes. This year, however, Congress managed to get only a lone seat in the Lok sabha election, whereas ally NCP managed to bag at least 4 seats.

Apparently, this is one of the biggest electoral jolts that the Congress received after many years in the State. Remember that Maharashtra was once its strongest citadel, where the party ruled beginning the creation of the State in 1960 to 2014, barring the six years in between the period of 1978-80 and 1995-99.

In the present crisis of poor performance and nagging uncertainty of electing a new Party president, the Congress is now no longer giving any hope of a political future to both its cadres and leaders, who left with few options of survival are abandoning the ‘sinking ship’. The current State leadership including Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan, both former Chief Ministers are no longer seen as powerful contenders to wrest its previous citadel from the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance, led by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. The BJP buoyed by its performance in the General elections and also in Maharashtra, along with its ally, is banking on a big mandate, which will also be crucial for the party to gain more Rajya Sabha seats from the State.

On the other hand, for the Congress the risk is doubled — if it performs badly in these elections, not only shall it lose the status of the main Opposition party in the State but would negate any chance to send MPs to the Upper House based on its own strength. This will further impact the party’s standing in national politics and perhaps the fear forced it to have an alliance with the NCP, unlike in 2014.

At the same time, this doesn’t seem to remove the fears of the beleaguered party as partner NCP too is facing a spree of desertions. Its legislators, Sandeep Naik, Shivendrasinh Bhosale and Vaibhav Pichad, and State women wing president Chitra Wagh, joined the BJP. Plus, last month, its Mumbai unit president Sachin Ahir and Shahapur MLA Pandurang Barora joined the Shiv Sena. Further, Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s (VBA) refusal to join the Opposition alliance by placing unrealistic demands, is also likely to help the NDA coalition.

Given the current situation of the Congress across the country, the Maharashtra polls are very critical, more so as the grand old party has lost the main Opposition status in States like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal and regaining it in near future appears to be a no-go. If that was not enough, the party has also lost the tag of main opposition in Odisha, Andhra Pradesh, and in Telangana. So, that leaves only Maharashtra, and it may find itself nipped by the NCP this time.

If this happens, this would be yet another nail in the Congress coffin, in not only national but State politics. It has over a period of time lost out the main opposition tag to the RJD in Bihar, the BJP in West Bengal, the Samjawadi Party in Uttar Pradesh, the TDP in Andhra Pradesh, the AIMIM in Telangana (AIMIM), etc. Data shows once relegated to third or fourth position, the Congress has bleak chances of making a comeback. And now, instead of taking on the BJP-Shiv Sena challenge, will it end up battling its partner, the NCP, behind the scenes, is a troublesome question? Predictably, all eyes are on Maharashtra as the grand old party would need to do more than just keep its fingers crossed.




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