The grand old party — the Congress — never had it so bad in Pune. Of the 21 seats in the district, the party won only one seat. In 15 seats, candidates lost their deposits. Traditional Congress voters and the party leadership are shocked that Congress candidates seem to have contested with the MNS for the fourth or the fifth spot, and ended up fifth in 9 seats, revealing the party is not what it was. In two constituencies, Congress candidates bagged just a over a thousand votes, reflecting almost a “contempt” among voters.
The question an average Congress worker- one is difficult to come across in the city these days- is raising is: Are the Congress days finished in Pune?
An obvious question, looking at its pathetic performance, be it in the heart of the city, upmarket area, outskirts or the neighbouring industrial town. Puneiites have summarily rejected the Congress and its ideology, promises and secular credentials.
In Kasba Peth in the heart of the city, the Congress has come a cropper five times. This time was no different despite quibbling in the BJP over the candidate. The Congress had little doubts about its candidate and went for Rohit Tilak, who had lost in 2009. Tilak proved no match for Girish Bapat who has reigned over the constituency for two decades. Tilak lost by over 40,000 votes.
In upmarket Kothrud, Congress is not among the first four. BJP’s Medha Kulkarni bagged over one lakh votes, while Congress candidate Umesh Kandhare finished fifth with 6,713 votes. The difference between Congress and BJP votes is stark and the educated class has given the thumbs down to the Congress. Congress candidates in Khadakwasla and Hadapsar on the outskirts of the city also finished fifth.
In Pune district, Sangram Thopte salvaged some pride of the party winning Bhor by a comfortable margin of over 28,000 votes. In Khed, Congress finished fourth securing barely 1,060 votes. In Daund, the Congress finished 8th and in Junnar it was placed 7th.
The Congress’ biggest hope in Pune district, Harshwardhan Patil, lost to NCP’s Dattatrya Bharne by over 14,000 votes. The votes secured by Patil, 93,646, is the highest a Congress candidate secured in the district. Other Congress bigwigs humbled include Vinayak Nimhan, Chandrakant Chhajed, Balasaheb Shirvarkar and Ramesh Bagwe. Veterans like Chhajed and Shirvarkar are not even among the first four candidates. Congress’ Pune unit president Abay Chhajed was pushed to fourth spot in Parvati.
In industrial town of Pimpri-Chinchwad, all the three candidates in Chinchwad, Bhosari and Pimpri lost their deposits. Top leaders from Pimpri-Chinchwad like Azam Pansare defected to NCP and Amar Mulchandani joined the BJP, along with several leaders.
The bad days started with the parliamentary elections. Congress candidate Vishwajeet Kadam was humiliated by BJP’s Anil Shirole by over three lakh votes in Pune Lok Sabha seat. The Congress seems to have made little effort to tone up the party machinery for the Assembly elections.
The question popping up among Congress workers is: Does the Congress have it to rise again on Pune turf ?
Congress leader Vinayak Nimhan is certain the Congress will bounce back. “National parties like Congress will not wind up. It is true Congress is going through a bad phase. It happened to BJP in 1984 when the party won barely two seats nationally. Similarly, Congress has done badly and will bounce back in future,” Nimhan said. His view is shared by colleagues like Mohan Joshi. One of the key reasons, Nimhan said, for the party’s dismal show was the Modi factor. “As it happened nationally, the Modi factor did us in…,” Nimhan said.
Joshi went a step further, “Besides the Modi factor that dented us badly, our organisational network was not up to the mark. We failed to take to the voters development work our government or civic bodies carried out,” he said.
A few Congress leaders believe had Suresh Kalmadi campaigned, at least in some parts of the city, the Congress would have fared a tad better. Nimhan said, “In the Modi wave, Kalmadi or any other leader wouldn’t have made much difference.”
Joshi said another reason relates to the alliance with NCP. “Because of the alliance with NCP for years, growth of Congress was stunted in some areas which shows in the poor performance in those areas,” he said.
At its meeting in Mumbai on October 27, the Congress is likely discuss its pathetic show in Maharashtra, including Pune. Congress leaders and workers feel the party leadership will come up with ideas to revive the party that seems to have met its Waterloo.