Congress in dilemma after Kasba win

Mar 06, 2023 12:55 AM IST

After bagging two out of the five seats in the legislative council elections and emerging victorious in Kasba Peth, things are looking a bit better for Congress.

The Congress – after dethroning the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from Kasba Peth, Pune – is facing a dilemma to whether to continue with Nana Patole as state unit chief or replace him with someone who could take all factions together in next year’s Lok Sabha and Assembly polls.

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After bagging two out of the five seats in the legislative council elections and emerging victorious in Kasba Peth, things are looking a bit better for Congress. Last week, it won the prestigious Kasba Peth by-election. Wrestling an assembly seat from BJP in an urban area, where middle-class and upper castes voters are in significant numbers, is being seen as an achievement for the party under current circumstances.

The ruling BJP-Shiv Sena alliance put its might to win both the assembly seats in Pune, however, Congress candidate Ravindra Dhangekar defeated BJP’s Hemant Rasne in Kasba Peth. It has given a reason for the party’s rank and file to celebrate. However, the party’s top brass is now trying to solve a tricky question: What to do with Patole? In terms of party performance, the state unit has done better under him. At the same time, there have been a large number of complaints against his handling of the party organisation.

Patole’s tussle with party legislative wing chief Balasaheb Thorat led to controversy over the party candidature in the legislative council’s Nashik graduates’ constituency election. Thorat’s nephew and party leader Satyajeet Tambe contested as a rebel candidate and won the election which came as an embarrassment for the party. Those who are opposing him have told the party leadership that Patole likes to keep the focus on himself and does not take all the leaders together. They have also complained that he doesn’t have a long-term plan for the party’s revival in the state which is crucial for Congress in its bid to win power at the Center in 2024. In the case of the Nagpur teachers’ constituency election too, the candidate who won was picked at the insistence of the local unit in Nagpur while Patole was insisting on another name.

On the other hand, Patole’s supporters are pointing out that he has been earnestly fighting against the BJP while most state leaders are not keen to take on the ruling party fearing ED or CBI action. They also say that his role could be important in getting the Other Backward Classes (OBC) to Congress. OBCs are as influential as Marathas in the state’s political arithmetic. Patole comes from the Kunbi community, a sub-caste of Maratha, which is crucial for Congress in the Vidarbha region. If Congress has to defeat BJP in Maharashtra, it will have to win a significant number of seats in the Vidarbha region, they insist.

According to the grapevine in the party circles, the top brass is considering a few names including former chief minister Ashok Chavan and former minister Nitin Raut, in case they decide to remove Patole. The reshuffle may involve replacing Thorat with Chavan or Raut. The report being submitted by party observer Ramesh Chennithala, who was in Mumbai recently, will be significant in this regard. There are also chances of replacing Mumbai Congress president Bhai Jagtap. Among the frontrunners is Dharavi legislator Varsha Gaikwad. Party top brass was expecting Jagtap to revive the party unit in Mumbai but so far he has not been able to do it.

“Who is Dhangekar?”

Ravindra Dhangekar, the person who defeated BJP in the Kasba Peth assembly by-election, has been talked about in political circles. The campaign strategy adopted by Dhangekar and his supporters to directly communicate with voters proved to be very effective while countering the well-oiled election machinery of the BJP.

Among other things, they smartly used a remark by BJP leader and Pune guardian minister Chandrakant Patil during the campaign. “Who is Dhangekar?” Patil had asked. The candidate’s supporters then put up hoardings with the question as a heading followed by details about him. A four-time corporator, Dhangekar is a household name in the area. Irked supporters did not leave at that. After the results were announced, a few more hoardings came up in Pune with the same question. There was an addition now: ‘Dhangekar is the MLA from Kasba Peth.’

Main opposition in Nagaland

Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has sprung a surprise by winning seven seats in recent Nagaland assembly elections. The party has now emerged as the main opposition party in the state. Ironically, none of the NCP leaders in Maharashtra expected that the party would do so well in the northeastern state where it never had any significant presence. One of its founding leaders, P A Sangma came from Meghalaya. The party leaders are now wary of the unit staying intact, given the history of splits and shifting of loyalties in smaller states. Senior leader Narendra Verma who was in charge of the campaign has now rushed to Kohima to select the opposition leader in the state. Ironically, Ramdas Athawale-led Republican Party of India (A) has also won two seats in Nagaland. The party has failed to win any assembly seat in Maharashtra for more than two decades.


    Shailesh Gaikwad is senior associate editor, Hindustan Times. He heads the political bureau in HT’s Mumbai edition. In his career of over 18 years, he has covered Maharashtra politics, state government and urban governance issues.

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