By Kalyani Shankar
The Nationalist Congress Party is going through a difficult time ahead of the Maharashtra Assembly elections going by the erosion taking place in the party in the past few days. The Assembly polls are due in October. The 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, while Pawar is trying to do some damage control, recently the Election Commission has sent a notice to the NCP removing it from the list of national parties.
Pawar is a big and a formidable leader in Maharashtra politics but with decimated strength today. Only last week the senior NCP leader Sachin Ahir joined Shiv Sena with much fanfare. Following that 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 is another who is likely to jump 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 erosion to the fact that some like to be part of government all their life and those are the ones that are leaving the party. He has also accused the BJP of misusing the probe agencies to coerce the NCP leaders to join the party. “I haven’t seen such blatant use of 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 few weeks away, it does not auger 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 CM. 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 these defections. In fact, even before the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the signals were visible. There was discontent in 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 in a coalition these coming Assembly polls, things are not looking good for the Congress too. Both the parties are facing dilemma and problems. There is confusion at the top level in the Congress after the resignation of party chief Rahul Gandhi two months ago. The party is yet to find a replacement. Things are drifting in the Congress both at the state level and national level. There is erosion in the Congress too. Those who are not sure of getting elected with the ticket of NCP or congress are leaving and 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 Leader of the Opposition if the NCP were to merge with the Congress.
There is no doubt that the NCP is politically shrinking. Though NCP got five seats in the recent polls, it was much below its expectations. While the 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 Shiv Sena are making solid preparations for the Assembly polls and together they stand to gain in comparison to the dwindling fortunes of the NCP and the Congress. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the Sena leader Aditya Thackeray are undertaking padayatras for mass contact programmes. The coming two months are crucial for the Congress-NCP combine to set right their houses and stakes are very high. If this coalition loses, it will remain out of power for two consecutive terms.