After bailing out the Bharatiya Janata Party at crucial moments during the past year and a half in Maharashtra, the NCP has decided to shed the “perception” that it had a “tacit understanding with the BJP”. Party insiders said BJP’s waning popularity and a fear of ceding Opposition space to the Congress prompted a course correction.
Party President Sharad Pawar convened a meeting of senior party leaders in Mumbai on Wednesday where a plan to overcome this negative perception was discussed. The meeting comes after the BJP finished fourth behind the Congress, NCP, and the Shiv Sena in Nagar Panchayat polls in the state. More than the BJP’s downslide the Congress’s impressive performance was what worried the NCP, sources said.
The Congress notched up 105 seats, while NCP tally was 25 short though it was in the second place. Sources said senior leaders expressed concern that the party was ceding opposition space to the Congress, which, they felt, did not bode well with elections to most urban local bodies including the prestigious Mumbai and Thane municipal corporations in 2016 and 2017.
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At Wednesday’s meeting, several leaders insisted that the “perception” of cosying up to BJP had dented the party’s image. Before assembly polls the BJP and the Shiv Sena decided to call off their alliance, and the NCP and the Congress had an acrimonious parting. In the polls, the Congress took swipes at NCP for having struck a “deal” with BJP.
A day after poll results in October 2014, NCP offered unsolicited outside support to BJP, which emerged the single largest party in a fragmented outcome. This made the Shiv Sena, which eventually stitched a post-poll pact with BJP and joined the government, to hit out at NCP.
There have been more than a couple of instances when NCP was seen to have bailed out the BJP in the legislative assembly. Praises showered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley during special visits to Pawar’s home turf Baramati fuelled the perception further.
Some senior NCP leaders complained that the party was not being seen aggressively raising issues against the ruling dispensation. A few even remarked that when they attempted to take the battle to the BJP, they had been advised by seniors and colleagues to tone down agitation plans. While the Congress has been attacking the BJP on ideological and corruption allegations, the NCP was not perceived to be aggressive, some leaders complained. Although Pawar has been saying that his offer of “outside support” was to lend stability to a minority government, senior party leaders confirmed this failed to override the negative perception.
A couple of leaders remarked that morale of the cadre had been hit as the party had failed to “firmly stand” by partymen against whom “false” cases had been filed. The Suraj Parmar builder row, where two NCP corporators have been arrested, and the Maharashtra Sadan case involving former Maharashtra deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal were cited as examples.
NCP’s Maharashtra chief Sunil Tatkare sent a clear signal regarding a course correction.