Urmila Matondkar leaves Congress: Actor's swift exit from GOP indicative of collapse of Maharashtra's centrist parties

  • 'My political and social sensibilities refuse to allow vested interests in the party to use me as a means to fight petty in-house politics instead of working on a bigger goal in the Mumbai Congress,' Matondkar had told a news agency

  • It is not hard to understand how the infighting between various power groups in Maharashtra Congress has started having a cascade effect on party workers, especially those like Matondkar, who have joined the party from other streams

  • Whether in power or in Opposition, the Congress is in disarray due to factionalism, ongoing feuds and infighting between various power groups

The twin exits of Bollywood actor Urmila Matondkar and the party's former Mumbai chief Kripashankar Singh from the Congress reflects a collapse of the centrist party in Maharashtra politics. On Tuesday, in a U-turn, Matondkar quit the Congress party as swiftly as she had joined it. Six months ago, barely a month before the Lok Sabha election, Matondkar had joined the Congress in the presence of then party president Rahul Gandhi. Meanwhile, two heavyweight leaders from the Congress and NCP respectively, Harshvardhan Patil and Ganesh Naik, joined the BJP on Wednesday.

Fielded from the Mumbai North constituency, she lost the election that was characterised by a Narendra Modi wave bigger than the one witnessed during the 2014 election, decimating everything in its way, including larger-than-life Bollywood stars if they were not contesting on BJP tickets. Matondkar has accused the Congress party of 'using her as a means to fight petty in-house politics'.

"My political and social sensibilities refuse to allow vested interests in the party to use me as a means to fight petty in-house politics instead of working on a bigger goal in the Mumbai Congress," Matondkar had told a news agency. It is not hard to understand how the infighting between various power groups in Maharashtra Congress has started having a cascade effect on party workers, especially those like Matondkar, who have joined the party from other streams.

 Urmila Matondkar leaves Congress: Actors swift exit from GOP indicative of collapse of Maharashtras centrist parties

File image of Urmila Matondkar. AP

Undoubtedly, her loyalty towards the party will be questioned, as after joining the party, she had said on a news channel, "I never did [join the party] half-heartedly. I’ll be stronger… even if I lose. I’ll continue to raise my voice… and not run away anywhere." But her voice has now been silenced. What she meant was that she had been made a scapegoat of infighting within the party.

"See, loyalty is conditional. Any professional or a creative person, who wants to serve the party with passion, finds himself or herself in a mess due to the existing problems and infighting in the party. Such people are bound to quit. Similarly, the exit of Matondkar is unfortunate for the Congress. It's a result of factionalism and an ongoing feud," senior journalist and political commentator, Rashid Kidwai told Firstpost.

The BJP-Shiv Sena-ruled Maharashtra is no different from Congress-ruled states like Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan etc, when it comes to the functioning of Pradesh Congress Committees (PCCs). Whether in power or in Opposition, the Congress is in disarray due to factionalism, ongoing feuds and infighting between various power groups. Similarly, instead of acting as a strong Opposition against the ruling alliance, Maharashtra Congress leaders are embroiled in infighting with their own party members.

Mismanagement in PCCs aggravated after Rahul Gandhi stepped down from the post of Congress president following electoral debacle. Even after taking over, Sonia Gandhi has been unable to change much, because the rot had begun long ago. The grip of the Gandhi family on the party seems to be slipping.

Whether it's Maharashtra or Madhya Pradesh or elsewhere, an absence of a decisive leadership has opened the field for ambitious party workers to use the opportunity (factionalism) to rise up the ladder, ignoring the damage being inflicted by their actions on the party’s unity and structure. The Madhya Pradesh Congress is also marred by factionalism and infighting, as various power groups have been trying to prevent senior Congress leader and former MP from Guna, Jyotiraditya Scindia — who's no newbie like Matondkar — from being appointed PCC chief.

In the Lok Sabha elections this year, out of the 48 seats, the BJP made a clean sweep in the state, winning in 23 seats and Shiv Sena in 18. While the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) had managed to retain four of its seats, the Congress bagged only one seat in the state.

The election result is a reflection of an acute trust deficit between the Maharashtra voters and the Congress and the NCP. This also indicates a continued collapse of the centralist party in the state.

"The present incidents reflect a collapse of the centrist party in Maharashtra politics, as both the Congress and the NCP have virtually collapsed. They don’t have any foothold in state politics at present. The younger generation is finding it difficult to function in the present scenario," remarked Kidwai.

Unlike Matondkar, who wasn't a grassroots worker but a newbie in politics, Kripashankar was a seasoned Congressman. What made the former Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil and his son Sujay quit the Congress and join the BJP? Sujay would actually go on to win the Lok Sabha seat from Ahmednagar on a BJP ticket. Another Congress leader Abdul Sattar had quit the party and joined the BJP. Congress spokesperson from Mumbai Priyanka Chaturvedi, who was often seen by Matondakar’s side, when the latter had joined the Congress, quit the party thereafter and joined the Shiv Sena. The list is endless.

"You may see the exit of a bigger leader in the Maharashtra Congress in the days to come," a Congress source told Firstpost on condition of anonymity.

BJP president Amit Shah had sounded prophetic during a rally in Solapur on 1 September, when he had said, “If the BJP opens its door completely, except Sharad Pawar and Prithviraj Chavan, no one will remain in their respective parties (Congress and NCP)."

All the leaders who have quit the party, blamed infighting and factionalism in the Mumbai and Maharashtra Congress.

While it's difficult to predict whether it’s too late, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief, Balashaeb Thorat has appealed to the party workers to end infighting and put up a united fight against the BJP. "The party faced similar troubles in 1978, 1979 and 1980; but we won. The Congress is still in the minds of common people and we’ve to reach out to them with new vigour,” said Thorat.

Only the results of the Maharashtra Assembly election, which is round the corner will show whether the Congress is still in the minds of the voters.

Updated Date: Sep 12, 2019 10:29:06 IST