TO REGAIN its lost ground, the city Congress is struggling to bring back the party’s good days and focus on its traditional vote bank of the economically-backward and minority class. The Congress had been at the helm of affairs in the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) for long as the city had been a party bastion. However, it started changing after 2007 when the NCP emerged as the single largest party and ended the Congress rule. The Congress was in power till 2002 when it won 61 seats and was the single largest party. It had to sit in opposition in 2007 as its strength dropped to 35 while NCP emerged the leading party with 42 corporators in PMC.
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The NCP to keep the Congress, then led by Suresh Kalmadi, out of power joined hands with Shiv Sena and BJP for majority. However, the alleged corruption charges against the leader in organising the Commonwealth Games hit the party’s image and he had to face suspension from the party leaving the local unit without any popular face. The NCP later took support of the Congress to retain power in PMC but the Congress remained the second party in the alliance. Its performance further dropped in 2012 civic polls as it won only 28 seats that was less than the Raj Thackeray-led MNS. The Congress also had the worst-ever performance in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections with the party not winning a single seat.
The Congress to change its fortune in the city has now appointed its former legislator, Ramesh Bagawe, as city unit chief. Being from reserved category, he is seen as a step by the Congress to gain confidence of the minority community in present circumstances.
The party has many leaders but lacks a strong leadership that would take it forward and bring back its lost glory. The factionalism within the party continues to add to its problem. The city leaders that were being criticised for losing contact with its vote bank are trying to revive it by reaching out to loyal party workers spread across the city.
At present, the city Congress to keep its presence felt in city politics has got aggressive against the BJP-led state and Union government by holding protests over various issues.
“The Congress is the only party in city that has its followers spread across the city. The efforts are being made to get the sulking supporters actively involved in the party affairs ahead of civic polls,” said a Congress leader.
Party leaders are working together by burying their differences to improve the party position, he said, adding the meetings of senior leaders and the various fronts of the city unit have been made active so that they reach out to the loyal supporters. “The local unit is not aware whether there would be a pre-poll alliance with NCP but is preparing itself to contest independently. The lookout for strong candidates is on and leaders are involved in it,” he said.