Battling a growing exodus from its ranks and going into its toughest election challenge yet in Maharashtra, the Congress is facing a strange predicament in Mumbai.
It is struggling to find “winnable” candidates for the upcoming assembly polls with many senior leaders reluctant to enter the fray.
Senior party sources said that the dearth of high-profile candidates in Mumbai was discussed during deliberations held by the central screening committee, under former Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia on Tuesday and Wednesday, for the finalisation of candidates for the 29 seats that the Congress is likely to contest in Mumbai.
Mumbai has a total of 36 seats. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which is contesting this election in alliance with the Congress, will contest the remaining seven seats.
While former Mumbai Congress president and former minister Kripashankar Singh, who has held fort for the party in Kalina over the years, quit on Tuesday, former ministers Suresh Shetty and Baba Siddique are not vying for a ticket this year.
Shetty, a three-term MLA from Andheri (East) seat, had come in third when he contested the last state polls in 2014. Siddique, who has also represented the Bandra (West) assembly seat for 15 years, has sought a ticket for his son, Zeeshan, from the neighbouring Bandra (East) assembly seat.
The Bandra (East) seat was the only belt in the Mumbai North-West parliamentary constituency where the Congress had managed a slender lead over the BJP in the recent Lok Sabha polls. Siddique’s son has also filed an application for nomination from the Versova seat, where several big names including former MLA Baldev Khosa, builder-turned-politician Raees Laskhariya and former corporator Mohsin Haider are vying for a ticket. Incidentally, Khosa’s son Siddharth has also applied for a ticket from the same constituency.
Similarly, party’s former city women cell chief Sheetal Mhatre, who had contested from Dahisar assembly seat the last time, and Susieben Shah, a former chairperson of the Maharashtra Commission for Women who was the party’s candidate from Malabar Hill in the 2014 polls, have decided against entering the race this time around.
Since the party’s defeat in the 2014 polls, several former party legislators including Krishna Hegde (Vile Parle), Rajhans Singh (Dindoshi) and Ramesh Singh Thakur (Kandivali (E)) had joined the BJP. In the run-up to the polls, party’s sitting legislator from Wadala, Kalidas Kolambkar, also walked over to the BJP.
In the 2014 polls, the party had won just five seats in Mumbai — namely Malad, Wadala, Dharavi, Chandivali, and Mumbadevi. Admitting to a shortage of winnable candidates, senior leaders admitted that things weren’t exactly looking up this time either.
During the candidate selection discussions, screening committee members urged senior leaders including Baba Siddique and Suresh Shetty to reconsider their decision. The party feels that it would have a better chance of winning with Siddique himself in the fray. Sources also confirmed that several senior Maharashtra and Delhi Congress leaders have been requested Shetty to contest the polls as well.
Shetty, when contacted, however, said, “I had made up my mind of not contesting a long time ago. I have had the opportunity of being elected thrice and serving as a minister for 15 years. It is time to breed in young talent,” he said.
Sources, however, said that the monetary resources required to contest a poll these days was also a major consideration for many who have decided to stay away. With the party being seen as an underdog for most of the seats, senior leaders are reluctant to spend big sums to contest.
“The money required to contest a state poll runs into crores of rupees these days. This was not the case previously,” said a senior leader.
Congress, NCP swap two seats
The Congress and NCP negotiators have agreed to exchange a couple of seats in Mumbai. The Congress has decided to leave the Dindoshi seat to the NCP, while the latter has decided to provide the Goregaon seat in return. NCP legislator Vidya Chavan is expected to contest from Dindoshi. The Congress has also staked a claim on the Bhandup seat where it wants to field senior corporator Suresh Koparkar.
While the NCP has said it is willing to consider the proposal, it has sought the Versova seat, which the Congress is not keen to part with. The Congress is willing to offer the Ghatkopar (East) seat in lieu of Bhandup.