Maha News | The anatomy of an impending, likely, fall - Hindustan Times

Maha News | The anatomy of an impending, likely, fall

Feb 26, 2024 06:32 PM IST

Barely a fortnight to go before the Lok Sabha elections are announced, the Congress is in a mess in the state where it was hoping to turn the tables on the BJP

Two weeks ago, former chief minister Ashok Chavan quit the Congress. It came as a surprise though not as a shock, because speculations were already rife that he would be joining the BJP camp.

Is the Congress headed for more trouble in Maharashtra? (REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO)(HT_PRINT) PREMIUM
Is the Congress headed for more trouble in Maharashtra? (REPRESENTATIVE PHOTO)(HT_PRINT)

Chavan was one of few Congress leaders in Maharashtra who had on-ground support. He led the party to victory in the 2009 assembly election. He suffered a setback following the Adarsh housing scam when he had to step down, but bounced back in the 2014 general election winning from the Nanded constituency at the height of the Modi wave. Following the party’s defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, he resigned as the state unit chief.

Following Chavan’s exit, there is unease in Maharashtra Congress. Most of the party’s 43 MLAs are on good terms with Chavan, at least a dozen are considered to be close to him. State AICC in charge Ramesh Chennithala has begun to talk to the MLAs and persuade them against leaving. But the mood in the party is not upbeat.

Chavan and other leaders have been unhappy with the way state Congress president Nana Patole functions.

Theoretically, Patole’s appointment makes sense for Congress in Maharashtra. He comes from the Vidarbha region, where the party can hold hope for a revival. He is an Other Backward Classes (OBC) leader and is thus, in line with the party’s vision of building a national support base among OBCs. Besides, he comes from the Kunbi community which largely stood with the Congress in the 2019 assembly elections and may continue to support the party as it is unhappy with chief minister Eknath Shinde’s decision to allow Marathas with Kunbi antecedents to get Kunbi certificates for OBC quota benefits. (Kunbi is a peasant sub-caste of the Maratha community and falls under the OBC category). He is also one of the very few Congress leaders in Maharashtra who criticises Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP aggressively. His close aides point out that most seniors are too careful while speaking about Modi — and even deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis — as they are worried that the Central agencies may knock on their doors.

However, on the ground, Patole has not been able to do much for the party. There is no concentrated effort to revive the party in Vidarbha, once its stronghold. Following splits in the Shiv Sena and the NCP, the Congress had a chance to recover its lost ground in the region where it won 82 seats in the 2009 assembly elections but lost almost half in 2019. This has not happened, several party leaders said.

Maratha leaders are also upset with Patole, and think the community is being sidelined in the party. According to a senior leader who did not wish to be named, Maratha leaders like Chavan and a few others had conveyed their grievances against Patole to the party leadership and suggested a change in leadership, but were rebuffed.

On the contrary, Rahul Gandhi during his visit to Maharashtra as part of the Bharat Jodo Yatra heaped praises on Patole.

“It won’t be a surprise if a bunch of party leaders and MLAs switch over to BJP and NCP in the coming days,” said a legislator from western Maharashtra region.

The party still has a significant number of young leaders who, if given responsibility and respect, would help rebuild the party but there doesn’t seem to be an initiative to do so, he said.

“A majority of us have stayed back in Congress not because we don’t have options. It is because we want to be in Congress. Ruling parties are leaving no stone unturned to defeat us and on the other side, there doesn’t seem to be a fightback from the party. Our leaders are more interested in keeping the focus on themselves by talking to TV channels and posting videos on social media,” the legislator said.

A former minister also pointed out, on the condition of anonymity, that the party’s core concerns are also unattended to. “There is no outreach to Muslims, Dalits and tribals. All these sections are our traditional supporters. We are not even talking to them. The general feeling among top leaders is that the people are angry with the Modi government and they would themselves support Congress. They need to wake up and see what happened in five states. The best example is the neighbouring Madhya Pradesh,” he said.

Meanwhile, however, Congress leaders are downplaying Chavan’s exit.

Legislative party chief Balasaheb Thorat said, "This is not the first time that people have left Congress. We have a number of young party workers who are ready to take the position of those who left.”

On the problems in the party, he said, “I agree there is a need for better communication within the party. We are working on that. We also need to reach out to people in a better way. Certain things are being done and the results will be visible. I don't see any major problem with the party in the state.”

Is the Congress headed for more trouble in Maharashtra? Will it be reduced to a minor party like it has become in states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar?

With barely a fortnight to go before the Lok Sabha elections are announced, the Congress is in a mess in the state where it was hoping to turn the tables on the BJP.

Shailesh Gaikwad, political editor of HT Mumbai, breaks down the most important political news in Maharashtra this week

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    Shailesh Gaikwad is political editor and heads the political bureau in Hindustan Times' Mumbai edition.In his career of over 20 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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