Congress MP and former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan on Monday said that seat-sharing talks with former ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) could have been handled better in order to reap the benefits of the split in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena alliance.
He added, however, that the split with the NCP had given the Congress an opportunity to strengthen its base across the state.
In an interview to Hindustan Times during his campaign in Nanded, Chavan also took potshots at the state BJP for its overdependence on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to garner votes for the party in next week’s assembly polls.
After the rout in the Lok Sabha polls, how are things looking for the Congress in the multi-cornered assembly battle?
I think a multi-cornered contest could work in the Congress’ favour. At least in my district, our experience has been that NCP votes do not automatically switch to the Congress. This is because at the local level, NCP cadre do not get along with our leaders. So, the opposition – NCP, BJP and Shiv Sena – would often gang up against the Congress. The anti-Congress votes are getting divided because of the multi-cornered contest.
Is there a real concern that the Modi factor will once again sink the Congress in the state? The Prime Minister has been getting a good response for his rallies…
I don’t think Modi’s speeches have been very effective this time. He is not evoking the kind of response he did in the Lok Sabha polls. The fact that he is holding 25 rallies for a state election is a comment on the BJP’s state leadership. This is not a positive trend. Had the state leadership been effective, what was the need for the Prime Minister to address so many rallies for Assembly polls? It means that either the state BJP leaders can’t get a good enough response for their rallies, or that they can’t communicate effectively. We have also observed, in Marathwada at least, that old BJP hands have lost control because people from other parties (allies) have been made candidates. So, the local leadership is asking ‘hamare acche din kidhar hai?’
You are backing on the political centre stage. There is a clamour among your supportersof ‘Ashok Chavan for CM’…
The locals have a bond with us and so they say these things. I am not encouraging this, nor am I campaigning to this end. I have worked for the party in every election campaign. In this campaign, too, my role is to see that we retain our old seats and win some more too. I am optimistic about our party’s prospects. I think we have a fair chance of coming back to power.
Do you think the seat-sharing talks with the NCP could have gone better?
The seat-sharing talks with the NCP could have been handled better. Yes, the BJP-Shiv Sena split could have benefitted us. I don’t know what went wrong as I was not part of the process. But there is another side to this story. In constituencies which were with the NCP for 15 years, our position had weakened and our party workers were marginalised. But now, because of the change in the situation, we are now able to strengthen our party base acrosst he state. For instance, in Nanded, the split has worked in our favour.
Isn’t there a contradiction in showcasing collective leadership and then having advertisements that project former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan as the chief ministerial candidate?
I don’t think Chavan is projecting himself as the chief minister. But, he is the leader of the Congress Legislative Party and we are going to polls under his leadership. We are there to help him, so there’s no contradiction. In 2009, the focus of the election campaign was on me as the incumbent chief minister. In the Congress, the chief minister is picked by the legislative party in consultation with the high command. So far, that there has been no discussion with regard to the chief ministerial candidate.
How tough is the electoral battle in your home constituency, Bhokar, where many of your opponents have come together?
I don’t think there should be a problem. This is my family constituency - it was held by my father and later by me. We have worked here for our people. My wife (Ameeta Chavan, Congress candidate in Bhokar) is accessible, knows our constituency and its problems. The opponent Madhav Kinhalkar doesn’t show his face to the constituency at all; he lost his deposit in 2009 polls when he fought against me. I am used to having opponents get together to gang up against me, but it’s not going to work.