‘Mood of the people is against Mahayuti’: Congress’ Ramesh Chennithala | Mumbai news - Hindustan Times
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‘Mood of the people is against Mahayuti’: Congress’ Ramesh Chennithala

May 18, 2024 09:01 AM IST

In an interaction with HT, Chennithala spoke about the challenges of working in a coalition, the possibility of the NCP merging with Congress, and more

The Congress did not escalate matters after the Shiv Sena (UBT) unilaterally announced that it would contest the Mumbai South Central and Sangli seats in the Lok Sabha elections because it wanted to keep the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance intact, according to Maharashtra Congress in-charge Ramesh Chennithala. The Congress was eyeing both seats but then “decided we don’t want to break the boat,” the 57-year-old said.

May 17, 2024: Congress leader and Maharashtra in-charge Ramesh Chennithala interacted with the HT Mumbai team at the HT office in Mumbai, India, on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Photo by Raju Shinde/HT Photo)
May 17, 2024: Congress leader and Maharashtra in-charge Ramesh Chennithala interacted with the HT Mumbai team at the HT office in Mumbai, India, on Friday, May 17, 2024. (Photo by Raju Shinde/HT Photo)

In an interaction with the HT Mumbai team on Friday, Chennithala spoke about the challenges of working in a coalition, the MVA’s chances in Maharashtra, the possibility of the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) merging with Congress, and more.

Excerpts:

You have campaigned across Maharashtra. What’s your reading of the situation as we enter the final polling phase in the state?

People are not happy with what has been happening — the way the MVA government was pulled down. Wherever we went, we saw people sympathise with Sharad Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray. Their parties were split with the help of central agencies, and people don’t approve of this. PM Modi made allegations against deputy CM Ajit Pawar in the irrigation scam, but when he joined them there was no mention. Farmers are also unhappy. The general opinion of the people is in favour of the MVA. They see that the current state government has not been delivering. Maharashtra and Mumbai have not got anything.

Politically speaking, MVA is less than half what it used to be. Two of your parties have been split, and you have lost prominent leaders. On the ground, your strength is less than your rival coalition. How can you defeat the ruling alliance?

On the ground, people may think like this. But in politics, two plus two is not four. The mood of the people is against the BJP, the [Eknath] Shinde [Shiv Sena] faction and the Ajit Pawar [NCP] faction. People feel the way Uddhav Thackeray was dislodged was unethical. Some leaders have gone not because of principles or ideals. They have gone for their own reasons. However, no party worker has gone with them. In Nanded [where Ashok Chavan left Congress to join BJP], our candidate Vasant Chavan is getting support from the grassroots. Ashok Chavan was not allowed to enter some villages.

Maharashtra was a Congress-minded state but the party has been steadily losing to BJP and there is no pushback from the party here. Why is it?

I agree to some extent, but in the parliamentary election, things will change. I became Maharashtra in-charge four months ago. My effort is to unite everyone, and I have succeeded to some extent. There is no bickering in the party. A difference of ideas may be there. Everyone is on one platform, and all are together. Not just parliamentary, we are having assembly elections soon. Our leaders are working together and behaving responsibly. Congress has a strong legacy, and we will bounce back.

Sharad Pawar recently floated a trial balloon and said he may be open to the idea of merging NCP (SP) with the Congress. What are your views?

We don’t have an ideological difference. We follow the Gandhi-Nehru philosophy. Pawar runs a Nehru centre here in Mumbai. So, I feel that we have no problem [with merging]. He has to decide.

Will the merger happen before the assembly elections?

That is up to Sharad Pawar. Let the parliamentary elections get over. I have welcomed the idea.

Is there a vacuum of leadership or a dearth of leaders in Congress?

Our party is very lucky to have second-rung leadership. I can count so many young leaders who have great potential, like Amit Deshmukh, Vishwajeet Kadam, Praniti Shinde and Satej Patil. They have good influence in their areas. The future of Congress in Maharashtra is good, and we can perform well with these new leaders.

In Mumbai, it seems Congress has given up. Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) has 10 seats, and you have recently lost Milind Deora, while Bandra East MLA Zeeshan Siddiqui is on his way out. Varsha Gaikwad was also unhappy about being shifted from Mumbai South Central to Mumbai North Central. Has Mumbai been on the backburner for Congress?

See, there are two aspects. When we are in a coalition, we have to adjust with each other. There is a give-and-take policy. I am from the state of Kerala, which has had 40 years of coalition governments. When we are in coalition, one has to give up some seats and take some. This is bound to happen. In MMR, we didn’t have much seats. But we have larger issues — to unseat the current central government and form the INDIA alliance government. For this, we have to sacrifice some things for the party and the nation. In Mumbai, Congress is strong. Deora has gone, but not a single person has gone with him.

Maybe the others are biding their time...

No one will go. What principled stand has Deora taken? For the sake of the Rajya Sabha seat, he forgot 40 years of service — his father’s legacy and work. When Milind Deora became a minister, I was a four-time MP and was not made a minister. The party has given enough to him. One fine morning, he ditched the party and went. In that district (south Mumbai), we are strong.

Your party was born in Mumbai. When it comes to negotiation, why does it succumb to Shiv Sena or NCP? It looks like you are playing second fiddle. In Sangli and Mumbai South Central, the seats were taken by Shiv Sena UBT unilateraly.

Unfortunately, in the last elections, we won only one seat [in Maharashtra], and this was our disadvantage while negotiating. After the parliamentary elections, we will be very strong and will play a pivotal role in state politics.

What went wrong in Sangli and Mumbai South Central?

There were problems here, but we decided we don’t want to break the boat. We want to go ahead.

This can send wrong signals to party workers...

I don’t want to elaborate on this point at this eleventh hour.

There is talk that some Congress are tacitly helping the BJP and can jump to BJP after the polls. Sanjay Raut and Raju Shetti are openly saying this.

No one is going. Whoever wanted to leave has left.

Why did MVA not give a ticket to a single Muslim candidate in the state?

We have 17 seats, seven of which are reserved constituencies for scheduled caste and scheduled tribe candidates. You can’t accommodate everyone. That’s the problem of a coalition. We will compensate [everyone] in the coming elections.

If an INDIA government comes to power, will you dismiss the Shiv Sena-BJP government in the state?

We will not dismiss them. The people of Maharashtra will dismiss them in three months when assembly elections come. In Karnataka, the same things happened. Our government was elected, and MLAs were made to defect using agencies. When the people of Karnataka got an opportunity, they gave a befitting reply to the BJP. The BJP made a blunder. The people of Maharashtra are politically aware.

What is your big takeaway from studying Maharashtra?

Maharashtra is a Congress-minded state. Due to so many reasons, we didn’t perform well. People don’t accept the policy of aaya Ram gaya Rams (turncoats). The PM has been using bad language about leaders. He used words like bhatakti aatma (wandering soul) to describe Sharad Pawar. The PM’s level has gone down, and this is not liked by anybody. He called Shiv Sena (UBT) as the nakli (fake) Shiv Sena. I spoke to so many people, and they said the PM should have not spoken like this.

Do you see the impact of Maratha agitation in the elections?

Definitely. We will sweep the Marathwada area.

Do you have a solution for Maratha reservation?

Yes. This is why our leaders said that there must be a caste census. Those who have not got their dues must be compensated, and the 50% [reservation] cap will be removed. Even now, the PM has not spoken about this. Maratha agitation will play a significant role [in the elections]. Dhangar agitation will also play a role. They have been fooled by PM.

Congress is beset by factionalism and the ambitions of its leaders. You said that you are pacifying all factions. What is the tool you are using? There was ill will against state chief Nana Patole.

Every Congress leader has to understand that the party is facing challenging times. You have to work together. There will be differences, but we will not discourage that. When the party is facing a challenge, one has to stand together.

If there is anger against the BJP, there is also residual anger against Congress for what happened prior to 2014. How are you addressing that?

There may be some anger, but people have already punished us. Once we are punished, people forget. That’s the general mentality of people. When one compares this government with Congress, people will be happy with Congress.

But at the same time, there is no alternative other than BJP?

That’s why we in Congress sacrificed so much to have a coalition.

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