Maharashtra polls: Infighting, lack of course correction in Opposition ranks may hand BJP-Shiv Sena easy win
The Congress in Maharashtra appears to be plagued by infighting and even the takeover by Sonia Gandhi as interim president does not appear to have helped matters
In poll-bound Maharashtra, while Narendra Modi addressed his first rally way back on 19 September, Rahul Gandhi only made his first appearance on 13 October
This is a sign of things to come in the western state, where the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance appears likely to return to power without breaking into much of a sweat
This is partly due to the lack of strong state-level leadership and absence of course correction among the Congress and the NCP
In poll-bound Maharashtra, while Narendra Modi addressed his first rally way back on 19 September, Rahul Gandhi only made his first appearance on 13 October, after a mysterious 'vipassana' trip to Cambodia. This is a sign of things to come in the western state, where the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance appears likely to return to power without breaking into much of a sweat.
Further, the Congress' top leadership does not seem to have made any attempts to alter its political messaging. Rahul, at his rally in Mumbai on Sunday, harped on the Rafale deal and allegations that the Narendra Modi-led government only favoured a few select businessmen — political planks that failed spectacularly in the Lok Sabha election. The party has also not projected a chief ministerial face to counter Devendra Fadnavis.
On Friday, Fadnavis remarked at a campaign rally that the elections have lost their usual fun this time because the Opposition has already conceded defeat. But it is not just the chief minister who is saying that there isn't much of an Opposition to speak of in Maharashtra. An opinion poll by ABP News-CVoter has also predicted that the saffron alliance will cross 200 seats in the 288-member Assembly.
Even the Congress' Sanjay Nirupam, who recently went public with his criticism of the party's top leadership, has said that the party will lose badly in all but three or four seats in Mumbai.
Turf wars galore in Congress
The reason for the disarray in the Opposition camp is not far to seek. The Congress appears to be plagued by infighting and even the takeover by Sonia Gandhi as the interim president does not appear to have helped matters. For instance, an article in Economic Times has quoted unnamed Congress leaders as saying that there has been much bickering and fighting between senior leaders Balasaheb Thorat and Vijay Wadettiwar. Both of them were said to be vying for the post of Congress Legislature Party chief, and the party sought to work out a compromise by making Thorat the leader of the CLP and Wadettiwar the Leader of Opposition. However, that has only served to muddy the waters further.
The Economic Times report quoted a Congress leader as saying, "One is claiming that since he is the CLP leader, he should be leading the charge against the government, while the other is saying that since he is the Opposition leader, he should be leading the show."
In Mumbai too, a turf war is underway between Sanjay Nirupam and Milind Deora. Both of them were absent from Rahul Gandhi's rallies in Mumbai on Sunday. On Monday, the former left little to the imagination as he referred to Deora as a 'nikamma' (good-for-nothing) —
Speculations & suspicions about my absence in RG’s Mumbai rallies are meaningless.
Due to an important family function I was very busy whole day,rather till late night.
Had informed him in advance.
He is my leader & he will be always the same for me.
But why was Nikamma absent ?
— Sanjay Nirupam (@sanjaynirupam) October 14, 2019
Earlier, the infighting between the two had come to the fore after actor-turned-politician Urmila Matondkar quit the party after the Lok Sabha poll results, blaming her failure on two local Congress leaders who were close to Nirupam. On his part, Deora also tweeted after the resignation of Matondkar, "I stood by her when she was let down by those who brought her into the party. Fully agree that Mumbai North leaders MUST be held accountable." Yet, strangely enough, Deora and Nirupam, for all their differences, seem to have one thing in common — a newfound urge to appreciate the Central Government on some occasions. Recently, after a controversy broke out over 'Shastra Puja' of a Rafale jet in France, Nirupam supported the government and said, "Shastra Puja' cannot be called a tamasha. There has been an old tradition of 'Shastra Puja' in our country. The problem is that Kharge (Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge) is an atheist. In the Congress party, not everyone is an atheist." Similarly, Deora tweeted after Narendra Modi's address to the Indian diaspora in Houston:
.@PMOIndia’s Houston address was a momentous first for India’s soft power diplomacy. My father Murlibhai was one of the early architects of deeper Indo-US ties.@realDonaldTrump’s hospitality & recognition of Indian Americans’ contributions makes us proud — Milind Deora मिलिंद देवरा (@milinddeora) September 22, 2019
NCP bears brunt of defections
While the Congress is suffering from factionalism, its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has borne the brunt of defections to the BJP and the Shiv Sena. Prominent defectors are former minister and Navi Mumbai strongman Ganesh Naik, who was with the NCP for at least two decades before he joined the BJP recently, and that of Udayanraje Bhosale, a direct descendant of warrior king Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.
Prominent former NCP MLAs who have joined the Uddhav Thackeray-led party are Sachin Ahir and Madhukar Pichad, who had served as ministers in the erstwhile Democratic Front (DF) government in the state. Both of them were considered close to Pawar. Former NCP MPs Dhananjay Mahadik and Sanjeev Naik have joined the BJP.
But the NCP's problems run deeper if the Lok Sabha election results are to be believed. In the parliamentary polls, Ajit Pawar's son Parth had lost to the Shiv Sena by over two lakh votes at Maval. The fact that even someone from the Pawar family suffered a massive defeat indicates that the party has much to worry about.
Voices from within the NCP have also spoken of the need to change the public outlook towards the party. An article in The Hindu Business Line has quoted a senior NCP leader as saying that the perception of the party as one dominated by sugar barons and rich landlords needs to be changed, and that unit-level members need to be closer to the grassroots-level problems.
However, considering the lack of strong state-level leadership and absence of course correction among the Congress and the NCP, the Opposition may well have handed over the state to the BJP and Shiv Sena even before the first vote is cast.
With inputs from PTI
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The Shiv Sena had snapped its alliance with the BJP in Maharashtra post the 2019 Assembly polls. It had accused the BJP of breaking its promise to share power, an assertion the saffron party flatly denied
Matondkar had unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election from Mumbai North constituency as a Congress candidate. However, she had later quit the party over the functioning of its Mumbai unit