The monsoon may have been a no-show and dal may cost Rs 100 a kilo, but what’s really worrying the ruling Congress-NCP combine is not the near-drought or inflation.
It’s the revitalised Republican Party of India.
As the state prepares to go to the polls on October 13, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party are most concerned about how the re-unified RPI and the Third Front that it is leading in the state will affect the battle for the 288 Assembly seats in Maharashtra.
As NCP chief Sharad Pawar put it last week: “The people voted us to power in 2004, when the situation was no better.”
With the backing of the Centre, where the Congress is leading the coalition government, there was always the promise of funds and relief packages in times of failed crops and rising prices.
Distressed people knew well who would help them, Pawar added last week.
Chief Minister and Congress leader Ashok Chavan announced that the state had already put in a request for Rs 13,000 crore in relief funds.
With even a quarter of that sum, the Democratic Front would have an Ace to wave about ahead of the polls.
It’s a formula that has worked well in the last two elections.
But now, there’s a chance that might not be enough.
The Congress-NCP combine has always depended heavily on the secular vote.
And, until now, there was little chance of its rivals — the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance — eating into that constituency.
The Muslim votebank is unlikely to shift loyalties from the Congress, and North Indian migrants will most certainly opt for the Congress-NCP over the Opposition, which has repeatedly said it wishes the ‘outsiders’ to leave the state.
But the Dalits now finally have their own party, no longer fragmented and squabbling within its various factions.
Since the community also resents the Congress for turning to them only when it’s time to gather in the votes, there’s a chance this chunk of the secular vote will move on to greener pastures.