Last week, Congress president Sonia Gandhi spent an entire day with the central election commission members of her party, screening candidates for 114 seats from the NCP’s quota.
Sources in the Congress admitted that the plan B for the party was finalised last week, with the state leadership convincing the Delhi top brass that their ally was likely to ditch the 15-year-old alliance.
“For the first time, we did not have informal discussions, and screened every candidate for each seat in the state. That has not been done in a decade. The trust deficit with the NCP was too high, so it’s better this way,” said a senior party functionary, who was present at the meeting.
After the Lok Sabha rout, where its strength was reduced to two from 17 MPs, the Congress is looking at a realistic target of 50 to 55 seats.
It is also looking at strategic tie-ups with smaller parties like the Samajwadi Party and Prakash Ambedkar’s party. The Congress has already picked some NCP rebels and is looking at further poaching from their former ally for certain seats.
“What better time than now to test our organisational strength. We have been arm-twisted by NCP for too long. And, the NCP was looking at putting up 30 to 40 rebel candidates against us,” said a senior party minister.
With its former ally likely to be one of its bitter foes in the polls, the Congress is preparing its strategy to fight against the NCP. The party is looking at focusing on CM Prithviraj Chavan’s clean image, apart from offering transparent and non-corrupt government as its campaign pitch.
“The NCP’s image is very bad because of several corruption scams and allegations. The Congress, so far, had to bear that burden, but the BJP can’t level the same charges against us. Whether it is irrigation, toll or Maharashtra Sadan, all corruption allegations are against NCP ministers. Even the BJP is involved in the irrigation scam,” the minister said.
Chavan used his Mr Clean image to his advantage on Thursday. “When I took oath as the CM, I promised I will take decisions in public interests. I have not compromised on that in the past four years. I must have upset some vested interests and hence got flak for it,” he said.
Political analysts say it is better for the Congress to go solo. “The party should not allow any arm-twisting by any regional partner. Maharashtra has suffered because of coalition politics and one hopes these polls will bring an end to it,” said B Venkatesh Kumar, political analyst.