The Congress’ collective leadership formula in poll-bound Maharashtra has hit rough weather on day one itself. One of its senior leaders, Narayan Rane, stayed away from the first meeting, on Sunday, of the poll panel to screen candidates for the assembly elections, barely two months away.
Rane, the new campaign committee chief of the party, was said to be busy in Konkan, his home turf where his clout is on the decline.
The Congress top brass had force-fit its dissenting senior leaders into five new panels set up to face one of its toughest tests in a state the party has ruled for the last 15 years. These panels are headed by the chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, three of his predecessors, and the state party president, Manikrao Thakre.
But, Rane’s absenteeism has raised the question whether this collective leadership can work, given that most of these leaders don’t see eye to eye.
A day before Rane bunked the meeting, his eldest son and former MP Nilesh, ignoring party protocol announced that he would contest as an independent from Guhagar constituency in Konkan that is held by the Congress’ ally, the NCP. The statement comes just as the NCP chief, Sharad Pawar, indicated his party was willing to compromise on seat sharing.
In an apparent damage limitation exercise, Thakre said Nilesh’s statement should not be taken seriously.
But, sources said that one of the irritants for Rane is that party MP and former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has been given the crucial task of co-ordinating between the five new panels and ground-level election management efforts. It’s a job that he had been indirectly asking for earlier this month.
CM Prithviraj Chavan is also not happy with the party high Command’s decision to set up a collective leadership. Two of his bitter rivals, Ashok and Rane, have landed plum assignments – coordinating election management and heading campaign strategy respectively.
“The party high Command has tried to involve all senior leaders as there had been several complaints against CM and state president after the Lok Sabha polls. By giving responsibility to all, the hope is that internal factionalism gets curbed but the fear is that a lot of energy will be spent by these top leaders in countering each other," said a senior party minister.
Political observers, however, point out that the Congress has failed to diagnose the reasons behind its failure in the Lok Sabha polls and collective leadership was plainly put lack of election strategy. In fact, how many of those who make up the collective leadership can win the elections is moot.
"Congress seems to have lost its plot. This collective leadership is a typical risk-averse reaction to put all dissenting leaders together to curb factionalism. But, it’s not going to get the party out of its current crisis," said B Venkatesh Kumar, political analyst.
Meanwhile, Ashok Chavan said, "All senior leaders have been given some responsibility for the upcoming polls. My job is to co-ordinate ground level election management efforts. Rane was to come for the meeting by afternoon but couldn’t make it. There is nothing else to be read into this."