It is an irony of sorts. The Congress, a party that was born in Mumbai, has been struggling to come to power in the city’s civic body for the past few decades.
The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) saw the last Congress rule in 1992-96. Since then, the party has remained the main opposition, with its failure to defeat the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance in the past four elections.
As the dates for the 2017 elections are announced, the Congress, which won 52 seats in the 2012 civic polls, is staring at a tough challenge again. The faction-ridden party has, so far, not presented itself as an effective alternative to the Shiv Sena and BJP, who have been squabbling over sharing power in the civic body. Reason: its failure to play the role of an effective Opposition in the past five years.
Even as people complained about the poor quality of roads and mismanagement with regards to several civic issues, the Congress did not use the opportunity to highlight the drawbacks in civic governance. It was not vocal when corruption in road construction or stormwater drain desilting came to the fore. The party itself is to blame for the situation it finds itself in.
Factionalism has been a characteristic of the Mumbai Congress for decades. Some senior leaders in the party make every attempt to unsettle whoever is appointed as the city unit chief. The infighting has reached such a level that the warring factions couldn’t control themselves even during the Mumbai visit of party’s vice-president Rahul Gandhi or a meet with Gandhi in New Delhi late last year. Sanjay Nirupam, who was appointed as city unit chief in March 2015, had to spend lot of time on containing factionalism.
After demonetisation, it pulled up its socks to hit out at the government and reach out to common public on the issue. The city unit of the party toed the national strategy of cornering the government and held rallies outside the collector’s office in Bandra and at various key junctions in the city. Its next step is to bring forth the failure of the civic body in key sectors affecting the lives of people. “We have prepared a report on the Shiv Sena-BJP rule of two decades. Our document will highlight the failure and corruption of the ruling parties,” said Nirupam.
Traditionally, the Congress’ voters have been a mix of various communities, a majority of which are non-Maharashtrians.The Congress plans to stand by hawkers – a majority of whom hail from north India -- and woo Muslims and Dalits. Nirupam is also building bridges with the trading community, Gujaratis and Marwaris.
“Many Dalits and north Indian voters may support the BJP owing to its systematic attempts to grow closer to the communities by launching various schemes and appointing their leaders in key positions. For Muslims, the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen has emerged as a new alternative,” said a Congress leader. Political analyst Hemant Desai said, “The Congress will have to efficiently bring the failures of the ruling alliance to the fore, but I doubt if it is possible, with just month left for the polls.”
The Mumbai Congress was the first to announce it did not want an alliance with the NCP. Its leaders feel if the Sena and BJP decide to go solo, it will become difficult for the Congress to perform. This is the first election in 15 years when the party is not in the power in the state. Nirupam, however, is confident the Congress would be seen as a credible alternative to the “corrupt alliance”.