The Congress High Command Monday summoned leaders from Mumbai to take stock of the political situation in the city, in what is being perceived as further confirmation that the party would not back the Shiv Sena for the Mumbai mayor’s post. Following the meeting, sources said the Congress’s Mumbai unit was categorically informed that the party should maintain equal distance from both the Shiv Sena and the BJP in the elections for the Mayor’s post. To send a clear message that the Congress was opposed to both the saffron parties, it was confirmed at the meeting that the Congress would field its own mayoral candidate, sources said.
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All India Congress Committee’s Maharashtra in-charge Mohan Prakash and Mumbai city president Sanjay Nirupam were in Delhi on Monday for the discussions, said sources.
The Indian Express had earlier reported that the party’s central leadership had issued directives to the city unit asking it to refrain from any action that could send the message that the Congress had directly or indirectly benefited the Sena. Top sources said the high command reinforced this during the meeting on Monday.
Elections to the Mumbai municipality, which were declared on February 23, have thrown up a hung verdict. The Shiv Sena won 84 seats and claims to have bagged support from four Independents so far, while the BJP has 82 seats. Neither party is close to the mark of 114 needed for a simple majority. With the saffron allies locked in a bitter battle, Thackeray’s party had launched back-door talks with the Congress for support. But just as the party’s city and the state unit were weighing the option of indirectly propping up the Sena by abstaining from the voting process, the high command stepped in and effectively ruled out exercising any such option.
Sources in the Congress said that the party’s leadership is clear that any form of association with the Shiv Sena, which openly advocates the Hindutva ideology, will weaken its secular credentials and dent the party’s support base among minority sections nationwide. “We will field our own mayoral candidate. There is no question of backing the Sena or any other party,” said Nirupam, when contacted.
Former Union minister Gurudas Kamat, who had earlier publicly stated his opposition to any discussion of a tie-up or indirect support to the Shiv Sena, said “We have always fielded a candidate for the mayor’s post in the Mumbai municipality to make our opposition to the Sena and the BJP clear. Why should it be any different this time?.”
Nirupam said that the Congress was also in talks with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) for this.
During the meeting on Monday, the party’s high command is also believed to have taken stock of the reasons behind the Congress’s poor showing in the Mumbai polls. The party’s tally shrunk from 52 seats in the 2012 polls to 31. While accepting responsibility for the defeat and offering to resign, Nirupam had earlier blamed senior party leaders for running a smear campaign against him.
Without taking names, the Mumbai Congress president had said that some leaders had been active in discrediting the party’s poll campaign. His barb was aimed at Kamat and former Maharashtra chief minister Narayan Rane, who were publicly critical of Nirupam’s functioning in the run-up to the polls. After the elections too, both Rane and Kamat had blamed Nirupam for the debacle.
Sources said that the high command had collected “independent reports” about the accusations being levelled from either side. The sources confirmed that any decision in respect of organisational changes would only be taken after the Uttar Pradesh poll verdict on March 11.