Even as other political parties are eyeing control over the richest civic body in the country, Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has a different goal – finding some space in the cosmopolitan city. Going solo for the polls, the party is not keen on contesting all 227 seats of the corporation, as it doesn’t have the base to compete with others. While NCP leaders are not confident about the party’s performance in the polls, political analysts believe the party will lose its current strength in the BMC. HT looks at where the party stands:
Despite ruling the state for 15 years (1999-2014), senior NCP leaders have failed to strengthen the party in the city. In the last BMC elections, the NCP got 13 seats with 3,02,134 votes, 6.56% of the votes polled. The situation was no better in the Assembly elections held two years later. Of the 36 seats in Mumbai, the party could not win a single seat, a drop compared to the three seats in the 2009 Assembly elections. To make it worse, NCP candidates didn’t win a thousand votes on 5 of the Assembly seats, while on 15 seats they polled between 1,000 and 5,000 votes. This means the party is very weak on 120 BMC seats, as each assembly seat, on an average, comprises six BMC seats.
The party got more than 10,000 votes on seven Assembly seats, which means the party can count on 42 BMC seats, which is its focus for now, said a party insider. The party has declared its first list of 45 candidates. Mumbai NCP president Sachin Ahir admitted they are concentrating on seats where either the party has a strong base or where the party candidate is strong enough to win. “We will not contest all 227 seats, as we are aware of our strength,” Ahir told HT. The Mumbai chief is hoping to surprise those who feel the NCP is weak in Mumbai. “Our party will act as a deciding factor after the polls,” he said.
Ahir, a former MLA from Worli Assembly constituency, feels senior party leaders did not concentrate on Mumbai. “Ajit Pawar, too, had admitted that Mumbai was ignored by them. We have decided not to repeat the same mistake,” he said.
The NCP is dealing with credibility issues as its frontline leaders are facing serious charges of corruption. Former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, who is seen as political heir of his uncle and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, suffered a serious setback with allegations of his involvement in a multi-crore irrigation scam. Other senior leaders like Sunil Tatkare and Chhagan Bhujbal are facing serious allegations of corruption and money laundering, respectively. Of them, Bhujbal is in jail.
The fight within
The party is also facing infighting among senior leaders in the city. This came to the fore when supporters of Nawab Malik, party spokesperson, and Sanjay Dina Patil, former MP, had a violent scuffle at a party meet organized at Deonar in November. The party high command had to intervene to sort out the differences.
Prakash Bal, political analyst, said the NCP has no prospect in the BMC elections as it has no base in Mumbai and feels the party may even lose its current strength of 13 seats. “It is a party with a rural base and has limited its connect to western Maharashtra. I don’t think Mumbai voters are interested in NCP, barring a few local leaders,” Bal said.
The party is making efforts to make its presence felt. It has set up an ‘election war room’ to reach out to every individual by adopting strategies followed by effective use of social media. The party has roped in MP Supriya Sule, a young leader with a clean leader, as its face for the poll campaign. The party will focus on the development works done by three municipal corporations — Navi Mumbai, Pune and Pimpri-Chinchwad that are dominated by its leaders, assuring the same kind of development will be replicated in Mumbai if given a chance.
Sources said it is looking to win 25 seats and is likely to contest 125 seats, a target which the party has never achieved . NCP’s manifesto will have big promises such as — medical insurance scheme for Rs101 and slashing BEST bus tariff to Rs10 at the higher end and many others to appease voters. It may go for ‘tactical alliance’ with the Congress by not contesting seats having strong presence of each other, to benefit both.