The idea of Indian National Congress propping up a Shiv Sena government in Maharashtra may sound bizarre to many, given the fact that the latter's ideology is anathema for the grand old party. Likewise, the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has spent decades opposing the politics of Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. However, survival instinct and political compulsions may drive the Maha-agadhi allies to back Sena than any real desire to form a enduring bond with the saffron party.
The Congress party, whose central leadership is wary of supporting the hardline Hindutva party, is seriously considering including Sena in the alliance due to two reasons.
Firstly, insiders say that Congress MLAs, who fought and won elections with bare-bones support from New Delhi, are now keen to have a piece of the pie, rather than lending outside support and staying out of power. Patience is reportedly wearing thin at the Jaipur resort where the MLAs have been holed up, as the party's central leadership dilly-dallied over the opportunity thrown open due to the Mahayuti's breakup.
"The MLAs are in constant touch among themselves. They won’t abide by the high command’s decision if the order is to stay aloof. The Congress will get emptied out and the government will be formed," a Congress source told The Telegraph.
Secondly, a cash-starved Congress may be willing to avoid a cost-intensive mid-term election in a hectic year with key battles like Delhi and Jharkhand Assembly polls ahead of them.
Once the largest party of the country, Congress is now facing an embarrassing fund crunch in a crucial election year — to the extent that it is going public with a nationwide fundraising programme. According to reports, the party was in such a dire situation that it content itself with old-school door-to-door campaigns ahead of the election rather than organising mega rallies of its tall leaders.
Former party president Rahul Gandhi addressed five public meetings in Maharashtra in all, while Sonia and Priyanka kept entirely away from campaigning despite repeated requests from candidates. A Congress functionary told Deccan Herald that this was done because organising big rallies puts a strain on resources and disrupts the pace of the door-to-door campaign, which essentially covers more ground than such magnanimous events that are highly expensive.
Furthermore, The Economic Times pointed out that all party candidates, who are usually offered at least Rs 10 lakh assistance to cover cost of commute and other big-ticket expenses while canvassing, were left to their own facilities in these elections. Senior Congress leaders were also mostly ensconced in their constituencies because the party barely had funds to cover airfares for marathon rallies. And elections are an expensive business. Lokmat pegs the stipulated cost of contesting the Maharashtra Assembly polls at around Rs 4,000 crore, while the Congress donations for 2018-19 stood at a meagre Rs 146 crore in 2018-19.
The expenditure differential between BJP and Congress is such that even in 2014 Assembly elections, the BJP alone incurred an expenditure of Rs 217.68 crore as against a sum of Rs 296.74 crore collected. While Congress spent just Rs 55.27 crore as against a collection of Rs 84.37 crore and its ally, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) exhausted Rs 41 crore. The data for 2019 expenditures is yet to be made public.
Meanwhile, the NCP, a party that has spent 15 of the 20 years of its existence enjoying power, has another battle to fight.
The Pawar-led party which thrives on the government-backed cooperative societies has been facing an existential crisis, plagued by mass-resignations and BJP's systematic erosion of its stronghold from various Maharashtra Cooperative Societies.
In January this year, the BJP-led government amended the Maharashtra Cooperative Societies Act 1960 to appoint independent experts to the boards of all cooperative bodies in the state, including cooperative banks and cooperative sugar factories, all of which were earlier under NCP's iron grip. The amendment was made effective with retrospective effect which meant the directors who have been suspended for wrongdoing — a bulk of whom were prominent Congress and NCP lawmakers — will be disqualified from contesting re-election for 10 years.
Furthermore, the mass defection by prominent faces of the party, during the past five years, makes it a double-whammy for the NCP, which desperately needs a rejuvenation plan and to regain its lost control over various cooperative credit lines, cooperative sugar Factories, and Maharashtra's 306 Agriculture Produce Market Committees, all of which provide politicians an opportunity to expand their patronage and dominate rural politics.
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Updated Date: Nov 12, 2019 15:03:31 IST