State Congress failed to reap benefits of Bharat Jodo Yatra, say leaders
Tambe is the nephew of prominent Congress leader from western Maharashtra, Balasaheb Thorat, who himself is now under the party’s scanner
Mumbai: On the day that Congress leader Rahul Gandhi’s Bharat Jodo Yatra completed its journey from Kanyakumari to Kashmir, former Maharashtra Youth Congress chief Satyajeet Tambe—once considered close to Gandhi—was contesting the legislative council elections in Maharashtra as a rebel candidate. Tambe is the nephew of prominent Congress leader from western Maharashtra, Balasaheb Thorat, who himself is now under the party’s scanner.
There are speculations that several other big names are in touch with the ruling BJP and could jump ship at an “appropriate time”. The state of affairs in the Maharashtra Congress is indicative of the impact or, rather, the lack of it of the Yatra in the state where the party was born.
The biggest problem of the Congress in the state where it ruled consistently till 1990 is that it has failed to create an impression that it could be an alternative to the BJP. Even now, it is the only party which has a presence in each of the 288 assembly constituencies—however, its local leadership has failed to revive the party’s state units and also to make its presence felt as a strong opposition party by raising issues of mass concern.
The Bharat Jodo Yatra, which passed through several districts of the state, received a good response. It helped bring leaders from all factions together and was seen as an opportunity for the Congress’ revival in Maharashtra. However, the party organisation failed to take the objective of the Yatra to the masses by holding initiatives in other parts of the state. “Had they done this, it could have helped the Congress deal with the BJP’s attempts to polarise the electorate on religious lines by raising issues such as ‘love jihad’ and religious conversion,” remarked a party insider.
A divided house
“We are in a bad situation at present,” admitted a senior Congress leader. “We need to focus on many things, but the most important is unity. At no point does the party look united. Leaders are not taken into confidence before taking important decisions. The party is divided into factions and the leadership is making no effort to deal with this. All this when we are aware that the BJP is trying to weaken us by poaching the top and second-rung leadership.”
The Congress’ performance in Maharashtra has been plummeting in every assembly election. In the last three polls, its vote share has reduced by around five percent and in 2019, it won only 44 out of 288 assembly seats. The situation is particularly grim given that local body and corporation elections in major cities are around the corner. Except for a couple of cities like Nagpur, the party’s presence is miniscule in major civic bodies.
“We have three top leaders—Nana Patole, Thorat and Ashok Chavan,” said a senior legislator. “The top three or four do not see eye to eye. Other senior leaders are not as influential. We have some good second-rung leaders like Satej Patil. But there is no initiative to take them into confidence, work out strategies, give them responsibilities and start work for the 2024 battle. Trust me, none of our senior leaders have sat even once to discuss electoral strategy.”
Far from revival
The Congress is part of the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, the three-party coalition that ruled the state till last year. While its leadership was initially reluctant to join a coalition with the Shiv Sena, state leaders had insisted that joining the government was important to revive the party unit in Maharashtra. However, during their stint in power, state Congress leaders were rarely seen making the effort to rebuild the party units even as the NCP top leadership toured the state and nurtured its cadres. Little wonder then that in the gram panchayat elections, the NCP competed with the BJP for the top slot while the Congress was pushed to a distant third.
Political analyst Hemant Desai believes that the state leadership failed to get its act together despite the Bharat Jodo Yatra. “Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole is vocal against the policies of the state and central governments but there has to be some action on ground too,” said Desai. “The party high command also failed to take any action against those who bunked the crucial voting on the floor test and Speaker elections soon after the formation of the Shinde-Fadnavis government.”
However, Patole claimed that the Congress was doing well and would emerge as the top party in the 2024 elections. “I have said this in the past and I stand by my statement,” he said. “The discontent among people against the BJP-led government will come to the fore in the form of election results.”