THE SHARAD Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that suffered a humiliating defeat in the 2014 Assembly and Parliamentary elections, seemed to be going all out to regain its lost ground in western Maharashtra ahead of the 2019 elections. NCP leaders said the party believed that if it could swing the public mood in its stronghold of western Maharashtra, then it could well emerge as the single largest party in the next polls and would be in a position to form the government with support of allies.
Through the “Halla Bol” agitation, which started from Vidarbha in December, NCP leaders said the party had received an “overwhelming” response from the public, with each of its rallies witnessing a turnout of 25-30,000 people. The “Halla Bol” agitation is currently being held in western Maharashtra, where the NCP had won nearly 25 seats in 2009 and was reduced to 15 seats in the 2014 elections. The party is excited with the “massive response” despite the heat, when the temperature has been hovering between 35 and 38 degrees Celsius.
“Three to four rallies are organised throughout the day — at 11 am, 3 pm, 6pm and 8 pm,” said NCP spokesperson
Sanjay Tatkare. A party leader said: “Open rallies are not being held in the morning and afternoon hours. Adequate shade is ensured to protect people from the heat.” He added that enough water has also been stored in advance at the venues.
According to NCP spokesperson Nawab Mallick, the turnout is a clear indicator of public mood, which is swinging against the incumbent government. “People are angry with rising inflation and poor government response to meet the challenges. The massive public response to our rallies is a signal that they want a change,” he added.
Mallick said the NCP had performed badly in the 2014 elections in western Maharashtra, but now, it seems to be drawing support from the same people who had deserted it. “Although we have not yet announced our election mission, the current response in western Maharashtra will surely come as a spur to kick-start our next mission” he said. Another NCP leader said: “The party quickly needed to capitalise on the public mood that is rapidly swinging away from the government. The indication is that the party has bounced back from its 2014 form and is looking like the number one on popularity chart.”
NCP state president Sunil Tatkare said each of their rallies in western Maharashtra has received a phenomenal response. “There has been a tremendous response to our agitation. We hope to get the same response in Konkan next month,” he said.
At all the rallies, top leaders, including deputy CM Ajit Pawar, party state chief Sunil Tatkare, opposition leader Dhananjay Munde and former finance minister Jayant Patil, pointed out the failure of Devendra Fadnavis-led state and Narendra Modi-led central governments on various fronts. Party MP Supriya Sule has chipped in at a few rallies, while party chief Sharad Pawar addressed the concluding rallies.
In most rallies, Ajit Pawar has been getting the loudest cheers. Munde seems to be the second-most popular leader, said an NCP leader. Of the 74 rallies held so far in Vidarbha, Ajit Pawar has addressed at least 70. During the rallies, the NCP leaders are taking up national and state issues, including farmer suicides, increasing inflation and fuel prices, unemployment and several local issues. Of the 36 rallies planned in western Maharashtra, 24 have already been held. Out of remaining 12, most of them will be held in Pune. “Halla Bol” that started as a padyatra has now become a rally.
Tatkare said they have undertaken 160 km of padyatra in Vidarbha. “Because of it we could cover only three districts in Vidarbha. So, it was decided that rallies will be held instead. The party will return to Vidarbha at the end to cover the remaining districts,” he added. “Halla Bol” is exclusively an NCP campaign, except in Vidarbha, where the party was joined by the Congress and Republican Party of India.