Ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly polls, both the Congress and the NCP have to set their houses in order. Pawar may accuse the BJP of misusing probe agencies to coerce NCP leaders but what can he offer to keep them invested?
Going by the erosion taking place in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) over the past few days, it seems the party is going through difficult times ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections. The polls are due in October this year. NCP chief Sharad Pawar has alleged that the defection from his party to the BJP/Shiv Sena was because of the saffron party’s manipulations. Added to that, even as Pawar is trying to do some damage control, the Election Commission of India recently sent a notice to his party, removing it from the list of national parties.
Pawar is a big and a formidable leader in Maharashtra politics but with a decimated strength today. Only last week, senior NCP leader Sachin Ahir joined the Shiv Sena amid much fanfare. Following this, the NCP women’s wing chief, Chitra Wagh, quit the party. Soon after, the NCP MLA from Akola, Vaibhav Pichad, left the party to join the BJP. Narayan Rane, too, is likely to jump the ship and the BJP might not be averse to his joining the party. There are rumours that Chagan Bhujwal is likely to defect to the BJP.
Pawar attributes the current erosion to the fact that some like to be part of the Government all their life and those are the ones who are leaving the party. He has also accused the BJP of misusing the probe agencies to coerce NCP leaders to join the party. “I haven’t seen such blatant use of the State machinery by any Government. The misuse is of extreme level,” he said.
Though Pawar claims that these defections do not worry him but with Assembly elections just a few weeks away, it does not augur well for a political party to face such erosion. Drawing comparison with the situation in 1989, Pawar claims, “I am not worried about any of the defections as I experienced a similar situation back in 1980 as a Chief Minister. Of our total strength of 60 MLAs, only six remained in the (Congress) while I was on an official foreign tour. In the subsequent election, all those, who defected from the party, got defeated and I got back all my 60 seats.”
Pawar, being a shrewd politician, must have seen the decline coming for quite some time. It is the NCP, more than the Congress, which has been hit by defections. In fact, even before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the signals were visible. There was discontent within the party when he projected Ajit Pawar’s son Parth Pawar as the chief ministerial candidate and to his dismay, with all the halo of the Pawar family, Parth could not even win the seat. Even Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule did not have an easy time in the family pocket borough Baramati.
Though the Congress and the NCP have agreed to fight the coming Assembly polls together, things are not looking good for the former, too. There is confusion at the top level in the Congress after its chief Rahul Gandhi resigned two months ago. The grand old party is yet to find a replacement. Things are drifting in the Congress both at the State and national level. There is erosion in the party, too. Those, who are not sure of getting elected with a NCP or Congress ticket, are leaving. There are quite a few looking for greener pastures.
The local party is facing factional fight and indiscipline. There is no single command at the State level. Demoralisation has set in after the humiliating defeat in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls. After losing Karnataka last week, the Congress is ruling only in Punjab, Puducherry, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh.
There was talk of the NCP merging with the Congress soon after the recent Lok Sabha polls. But this died down though the subject was discussed between Pawar and Rahul Gandhi after the poll debacle to enable the Congress get the post of the Leader of the Opposition if the NCP were to merge with the Congress.
There is no doubt that the NCP is politically shrinking. Though it got five seats in the recent polls, it was much below its expectations. While the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) chief Chandrababu Naidu and Pawar tried to project the latter as the Opposition face, as he was acceptable to smaller Opposition parties before the 2019 polls, this did not succeed.
Both the BJP and its coalition partner, the Shiv Sena, are making solid preparations for the Assembly polls. Together, they stand to gain in comparison to the dwindling fortunes of the NCP and the Congress. Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray are undertaking padayatras for mass contact programmes. The coming two months will be crucial for the Congress-NCP combine to set their houses in order as the stakes are very high. If this coalition loses, it will remain out of power for two consecutive terms.
(The writer is a senior journalist)
Writer: Kalyani Shankar
Courtesy: The Pioneer