For a bunch of potential losers who feel it in their bones that they may not be winning the upcoming assembly elections, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) sure seem to be grasping at straws in the run-up to the seat-sharing ahead of the polls.
The NCP is demanding half the seats in the assembly because it won double the seats the Congress did in the general elections — that’s the only way deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar can comfort himself with the thought that he has a striking chance at becoming chief minister the next time around.
I recall what NCP chief Sharad Pawar had told me years ago, “A victory is a victory," whether by one vote or by a huge margin. At that time all parties had ganged up against the Congress and strived to defeat Pawar in his own bastion. But when it became obvious that Baramati would stay with Pawar, Gopinath Munde of the BJP had similarly consoled himself with the thought that at least he would reduce the margin of Pawar’s victory.
Two decades later the margin that Baramati gave Supriya Sule, Pawar’s daughter, in the Lok Sabha polls was a shameful one for a family that considers the constituency its fief — even Ajit Pawar’s threats to villages if they voted against his cousin had no effect.
So perhaps the NCP must keep in mind that of the other three seats they have in the Lok Sabha, only one — Kolhapur — can be considered a good show. Udayan Raje Bhosale, as the direct descendant of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, would have won from Satara on any party ticket and, of course Madha, won by Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, was Sharad Pawar’s own seat and could not have been lost.
What the NCP, then, forgets is that while the Congress might have been reduced to half its own numbers in the Lok Sabha it could be just a temporary phenomenon. But in a decade and a half of its own existence, the NCP seems to now be a party confined merely to western Maharashtra — and that, too, to specific citadels of its party stalwarts.
The problem with the Congress, on the other hand, is the lack of a credible leadership and someone who can hold a candle to the bullying Pawars. In the absence of Vilasrao Deshmukh, who could meet both the Pawars measure for measure, they can still make do with Ashok Chavan — after all had it not been for the former chief minister the Congress may have posted a duck from Maharashtra. But with two swords — the Adarsh scam and paid news controversy — hanging over his head, I wonder if the Congress will be up to making use of his skills. He, after all, had brought the party back to power for the third time as reigning chief minister in 2009.
However, given the kind of bickering that is already taking place within the party — quite apart from the ongoing quarrels with the NCP — I am reminded of what a long-time Congressman, sensing his party’s defeat, had told me during the Lok Sabha polls. “Have you ever heard a single Congress leader holding either the BJP or the Sena responsible for his/her defeat anytime? We are always blaming each other for that. It is always Congressmen who cause the Congress’ downfall. First we do not get our act together; then we fight each other to the bitter end. In other parties at some point they all set aside their differences and focus on victory. We focus only on our own partymen’s defeat.’’
Which again reminds me of something Pawar had told me during a recent election campaign: “Congressmen do not know how to win elections. They just sit back and depend upon the high command for their victory. They never work for it themselves."
But, even if the election seems like a lost cause at the moment, Pawar is working for a victory — and the only reason why the Congress and the NCP might have a slim chance to draw even with the saffron allies is his desperate hunger to retain his home state. Else malnourishment beckons, he knows very well.