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Reviving Congress in Mumbai an uphill task for its leaders

With the death of Gurudas Kamat, Congress’ plans to revive its fortunes in India’s financial capital has suffered a setback

mumbai Updated: Aug 28, 2018 07:43 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Congress,Gurudas Kamat
Senior Congress leader Gurudas Kamat’s death has come at a crucial time for the Congress, which needed him for next year’s Lok Sabha and assembly elections. (PTI)

Death of former Union minister Gurudas Kamat’s death has compounded the problems for the Congress in Mumbai. The party’s plan to revive its fortunes in India’s financial capital has suffered a setback. Kamat, a senior party leader and former chief of Congress’ Mumbai unit, died of a heart attack on August 22.

His death came at a time when the Congress is preparing for the next year’s Lok Sabha and assembly elections, and needed him. The party is desperate to regain lost ground in the upcoming elections and its leadership is hoping to wrest back power at the Centre from the BJP-led coalition that got a strong mandate in 2014 elections.

One of the areas the Congress is hoping to make gains is Mumbai, which sends six members to the Parliament and 36 to the state assembly. The party suffered electoral reverses in 2014 elections. It lost five out of six Lok Sabha seats. In assembly elections, BJP won 15 out of 36 seats, Shiv Sena 14. But Congress’ tally slumped to five from 17.

Since 2014, the Congress has been continuously losing to the BJP. Earlier, the voters in the city were largely divided between the Congress and Shiv Sena-BJP in different combinations, including Marathi and non-Marathi. Taking advantage of the Modi wave, the BJP successfully took the non-Marathi voters away from the Congress, which barely managed to keep its control over areas dominated by minority and Dalit voters in the city.

Apart from the Gujarati-speaking community, the BJP also succeeded in securing support of North Indians — the second largest group after Marathi speaking population in Mumbai and other communities such as south Indians.

Last year’s civic election was an opportunity for the Congress to get its voters back, but it failed. On the other hand, the BJP retained its newly gained voters. While the BJP won second highest number of seats after the Sena in the civic houses, the Congress was pushed to a distant third position. Ahead of the election year, the worry for Congress is how to win back its lost supporters in the city.

History

For more than four decades since Independence, the Congress was a dominating political factor in Mumbai. It was the main political party with other parties having their limited area of influence. Even as the Shiv Sena created its Marathi vote bank and has managed to retain power in Mumbai civic body for more than three decades, it could not dominate assembly or Lok Sabha seats in the city. They were always divided between the Sena-BJP alliance and the Congress depending on the prevailing political atmosphere. Since 2014, the Congress has been losing ground to the BJP.

In the past, presidents of Congress’ Mumbai unit were always seen as political heavyweights. Politicos such as SK Patil, Rajani Patel and the late Murli Deora had strong influence in the party. For a long time, even though he did not hold any ministerial position, Deora had more influence on the corporate world than ministers handling relevant ministries at the Centre. Kamat, who was later made chief of Congress’ Mumbai unit, was also seen as an influential Congress functionary. The position seems to have lost that influence. Congress losing at the Centre and in the state is of course a major factor.

Infighting

What they jokingly say about the Congress in political circles is applicable to its Mumbai unit as well: Congress doesn’t need rivals. It is defeated by its warning leaders. The factionalism and infighting in the party has often led to the Congress losing elections. The party has failed to win civic elections in past three decades as warring leaders preferred the Shiv Sena to be in power in India’s richest civic body rather than the competitors from within the party. This was seen in the past and most recently in 2012 and 2017 civic polls.

Even now, incumbent Congress chief [Mumbai] Sanjay Nirupam is facing strong opposition from rival factions. Kamat himself had resigned from all party posts in protest of decisions being taken in Mumbai. Nirupam and his bosses will have to find a way to handle the infighting before they prepare to take on the BJP’s massive election machinery, which is gearing up for a grand battle.

First Published: Aug 28, 2018 00:30 IST