For the Congress to get an edge over its rivals in the Lok Sabha poll battle in Maharashtra, it will have to retain hold of its citadel, Mumbai.
Faced with one of the most daunting elections in recent times, the party’s central leadership, for the first time ever, has set up a 13-member coordination committee to handle the party’s electoral campaign in the city. On Tuesday, the panel had its first meeting to chalk out a campaign plan, which will include a mega rally by party president Sonia Gandhi.
There’s a reason why Mumbai and its metropolitan region, which will vote for 10 members of Parliament (MPs), matter so much for the Congress.
In 2004, of the 13 seats the party won in the state, five were from the Mumbai-Thane belt; it lost only one to the Shiv Sena in this belt. In the 2009 polls, of the 17 seats won in the state, the Congress won five seats in Mumbai as well as the Bhiwandi seat; the ruling alliance swept eight seats in this belt.
One- third of i t s seats in Maharashtra have come from the Mumbai-Thane belt in the last two elections, which means a positive verdict in Mumbai could help tilt the tally in favour of the Congress.
To avoid a complete rout in the state, the party leadership believes that efforts must be made to minimise losses in the city.
Amidst dismal poll forecasts, if there’s any good news for the Congress, it is the rivalry between the Thackeray cousins. Congress leaders are hoping that 2014 will see a repeat of what happened in the 2009 elections, when Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS) contestants polled more than one lakh votes in each of the six Mumbai city seats, eating into the Sena’s votebank and turning the tide in favour of the ruling alliance.
“We can win all six seats in the city because we have taken several decisions that will benefit Mumbai. We have to communicate this to the mandate. And, yes, the MNS contesting polls also works to our advantage,” said minority affairs minister Naseem Khan, a member of the newly formed committee.
However, a repeat victory of all six seats looks tough for the Congress because the scenario is different from 2009. For one, Raj Thackeray is not fielding candidates against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the city, which means trouble in two city seats – Mumbai North represented by Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam and Mumbai North East represented by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) MP Sanjay Patil.
The other element is the new political entrant, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), which could pack a surprise punch and dent ruling alliance votes, especially in Mumbai North East, from where its candidate, social activist Medha Patkar, is contesting.
“In three city seats – South Central Mumbai, South Mumbai and North West Mumbai – a repeat of the 2009 results is possible. We are also confident of Mumbai North Central as Priya Dutt is a strong candidate and her victory margin was 1.77 lakh votes the last time. We are looking at netting these four seats in Mumbai at any cost,” said a senior party leader and member of the panel.
The party is also banking on retaining its traditional votebank, which includes Muslims and slumdwellers. “We expect a polarised fight with Muslims backing the Congress,” Khan said.
The panel, which includes three state ministers, five city MPs, former Mumbai president Kripashankar Singh, former Union minister Murli Deora and two Rajya Sabha members Rajeev Shukla and Hussain Dalwai, is now looking at a campaign plan for Mumbai that targets all six seats (five contested by the Congress and one by the NCP) and will primarily focus on UPA II and the state government’s decisions for urban areas and city.