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BMC polls: Congress loses connect with its traditional voters

Though the party enjoys a stronghold in rural areas and deep-rooted support from the cooperative movement, it was drubbed to the third and fourth position in the rural and urban bodies.

mumbai Updated: Feb 24, 2017 07:35 IST
Surendra P Gangan
Surendra P Gangan
Hindustan Times
BMC polls,congress,bmc poll results
Congress supporters celebrate the victory of candidate Ganga Mane at Dadar on Thursday.(Kunal Patil/ Hindustan Times)

Congress leaders were hoping to retain their leading positions in the rural bodies of the district councils and panchayat samitis, especially in the wake of demonetisation and the resultant hardships faced by people. Though the party enjoys a stronghold in rural areas and deep-rooted support from the cooperative movement, it was drubbed to the third and fourth position in the rural and urban bodies.

While the Mumbai unit of the party was struggling owing to infighting among its key leaders, the party failed to put up a united front at the state level too. A lack of coordination, coupled with leaders interested in safeguarding their own bastions, and the party’s failure to live up to the expectations of its traditional vote banks of Muslims, tribals and the Maratha community led the Congress to fare poorly in the state.

“The party did not seize upon opportunities such as demonetisation, unrest among the Maratha community, the government’s failure to provide respite to farmers during the drought and the state’s extension of minimum support price for agricultural produce. The state unit staged protests against demonetisation only when central leadership announced nationwide protests. The party had an opportunity to fight for the farmers facing a cash crunch as the district central cooperative banks were denied permission to transact in banned notes after demonetisation. The party’s failure to bank on the discontent among the Marathas helped the BJP to divide protesters from the community to defuse the aggression witnessed during first few rallies. This developed a feeling of distrust among traditional Congress supporters,” said a leader from the party.

The party faced a drubbing in the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly elections when it won only two and 42 seats, from the state where the Congress was founded in 1885. The central leadership has always counted on Maharashtra, which has stood by the party since its inception.

State chief Ashok Chavan and former chief minister Narayan Rane ensured a victory for the party in their district. However, the Congress had to face defeat in Latur, Yavatmal, Sangli and Satara — areas represented by key party leaders such as Amit Deshmukh, Manikrao Thakre, Patangarao Kadam and Prithviraj Chavan.

The party’s Mumbai unit was divided by factionalism, with differences surfacing immediately after the appointment of Sanjay Nirupam as its head. These fights did not die down even during the elections. Senior leaders openly indulged in mud-slinging, without considering its effect on the party’s prospects. Key party leaders Gurudas Kamat, Priya Dutt and Arif Naseem Khan campaigned for their own supporters by conspicuously abstaining from party rallies. This resulted in Nirupam offering to quit even before the results were fully announced on Thursday.

Political analyst Hemand Desai said, “The 130-year-old party could win at least 31 seats in Mumbai, but its performance elsewhere in the state is worrisome. It would have been pushed to wall had the demonetisation issue not been in the news. The party’s lack of coordination and its failure to throw its weight behind candidates are the major reasons for this debacle.”

State party chief Ashok Chavan said he accepted the blame for the party’s poor performance. “It is true that we have lost badly even in the district council. It is time to introspect before the 2019 general election. We will have to strengthen our district level units. Leaders at the district level will have to take corrective steps.The general elections are fought on entirely different grounds, but party leaders will have to pull their socks,” Chavan told HT.

BMC polls: BJP wins over Congress-NCP ruled rural bodies

First Published: Feb 24, 2017 01:34 IST