“Narayan Rane is such a personality that every party wants him,”said a smiling Chandrakant Patil, state revenue minister and a key Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader in Maharashtra on Monday, as reporters asked him whether Rane, a former chief minister and senior Congress leader, was on way to the BJP.
Over the past few days, there have been speculations over whether Rane would cross over to the BJP or Shiv Sena for greener pastures.
Sources close to him say Rane is in touch with top brass of the BJP and also trying to build bridges with the Shiv Sena leadership.
Rane is not alone. There are speculations over several politicians from Congress and NCP. They include NCP’s Navi Mumbai strongman Ganesh Naik and leader from Beed district, Jaydutt Kshirsagar. Some have denied crossing over to the ruling parties, while some have chosen to maintain silence.
Who among them wants to change their parties will be clear in the next few weeks, but the fact is that the mood in the two main Opposition parties in the state is sombre, especially after the BJP’s performance in the local polls in Maharashtra and its landslide victory in the Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections.
The legislators and party workers are demoralised and unsure whether their parties can counter the Modi juggernaut. As such, it won’t be surprising if some of them are exploring the possibility of joining the ruling parties. The idea of staying out of power for another five years is making them restless.
Oppn struggling with problems
Congress leaders are looking at the top leadership to start the process of revival, instead of taking up the task at the local level themselves.
The party is full of heavyweights, but recent local polls showed that many of them failed miserably in front of the BJP’s well-organised machinery in the municipal and district council polls.
Forget winning the local bodies, they could not put up a good show in their districts.
On the other hand, confusion continues in the NCP. Party leaders say the top brass is yet to decide upon a strategy to counter the BJP. The leadership is also in two minds over whether to continue with the established faces or promote fresh ones.
The depression in the Congress-NCP camp also stems from the fact that the two parties did not expect the BJP to do well in the civic and district council polls.
Several opposition leaders thought chief minister Devendra Fadnavis would not be able to show results while running the government and as such, wresting power from the BJP would not be difficult in the next assembly elections.
However, the way the BJP made inroads into rural areas came as a shock to them. Now, they have realised that removing the BJP from Mantralaya is not easy. In addition, the top brass of both parties is worried over the defection of influential leaders, especially to the BJP, which is keen on importing leaders from other parties in areas where they need to gain strength.
This explains why both opposition parties are now aggressive in their demand for a farm loan waiver, an issue they think can win over farmers in the state.
Right from day one of the budget session of the state legislature, the two parties raised the demand for farm loan waiver.
It led to suspension of 19 Opposition legislators as they tried to disrupt the proceedings during the presentation of the state budget on March 11. The two parties are now using this incident to start Sangharsh Yatra, a joint protest of Opposition parties, through 16 districts that will start on Wednesday.
For the first time since the BJP came to power in Maharashtra, the Congress-NCP are staging an aggressive protest. This is aimed at creating an atmosphere against the government and at the same time, lifting the morale of the party cadre and preventing large-scale defections to the ruling parties.
Significantly eight political parties — Congress, NCP, Peasants and Workers Party, Samajwadi Party, Janata Dal (S), Communist Party of India, RPI (Kawade faction) and AIMIM — have come together for the Sangharsh Yatra. Is this the beginning of a formation of a broad anti-BJP coalition in Maharashtra in the run-up to 2019?