Explained: Why Congress’ position as Maharashtra’s principal opposition party is on a shaky wickethttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/congress-maharashtra-principal-opposition-party-radhakrishna-vikhe-patil-5739013/

Explained: Why Congress’ position as Maharashtra’s principal opposition party is on a shaky wicket

At a time when Maharashtra state elections are barely five months away, the Congress's status as the principal opposition party in the state legislative assembly itself is under a cloud.

Rahul Gandhi with Congress party leader Sanjay Nirupam.

As the nation keenly awaits the final results of the hotly-contested Lok Sabha elections, the Congress in Maharashtra is battling another problem. At a time when the state elections are barely five months away, the Congress’s status as the principal opposition party in the state legislative assembly itself is under a cloud.

During the campaigning for the Lok Sabha polls, Leader of Opposition (Assembly) Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil had step down from the post after being targetted within the party when his son, Sujay, entered the Lok Sabha fray from Ahmednagar as the Bharatiya Janata Party’s official candidate. While Congress president Rahul Gandhi has accepted Vikhe-Patil’s resignation, sources confirmed that the party is yet to submit it to the Assembly Speaker.

Just as the Congress’s legislative party is meeting Monday to discuss the new name for the crucial post, the party knows it is on the shaky wicket and might end up losing the post if it fails to keep its flock together. Apart from Vikhe-Patil, two other Congress MLAs — Nitesh Rane and Kalidas Kolambkar — are already in touch with the BJP. Another sitting MLA Abdul Sattar, too, has submitted his resignation.

In the 2014 state poll, the Congress has won 42 seats, while the Nationalist Congress Party had won 41. NCP’s strengthen decreased by one recently owing to the demise of a serving MLA. Senior Congress leaders agreed that the tricky number game in the Assembly is basically the reason for the party to defer action against these dissenters.

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The Leader of Opposition is normally viewed as an alternative or a shadow Chief Minister. As per protocol, he enjoys the status of a cabinet minister. With the final session of the legislature before the state polls to commence on June 17, the LOP’s post holds the key to effectively challenge the Devendra Fadnavis government on the assembly floor.

Officials in the state legislature clarified that it is the Assembly Speaker’s prerogative to appoint an LoP after consultation with all parties. As per the process, Congress will have to first submit Vikhe-Patil’s resignation to the Speaker. It will also need to submit a letter recommending a fresh name for the post.

While names of former Congress ministers Vijay (Balasaheb) Thorat and Vijay Wadettiwar are doing the rounds to succeed Vikhe-Patil, the party high command is likely to wait for the outcome of the Lok Sabha polls before announcing its decision.