Almost 24 hours after the state budget presentation that united the Shiv Sena and the BJP, voices of dissidents within Congress have got louder on the mode of protest adopted in the entire session. A section within the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee was worried over how long it could hold hostage the issues of public interest by harping on the issue of crop loan waiver. An AICC functionary told The Indian Express, “We find ourselves at the crossroads, unable to decide which issue would strike a chord with the people. Moreover, after successive poll debacles since the 2014 Assembly and Lok Sabha elections, we have not been able to identify our fault lines.” In Maharashtra, over 10 Congress leaders candidly said elevation of Rahul Gandhi from the post of vice-president to president of AICC would not be a surprise.
“We still believe Gandhi parivar is critical in keeping the party together which is already in trouble,” said a Congress leader. However, many leaders indicated that the Maharashtra Congress had taken no effort to even engage in introspection after repeated poll setbacks.
Insiders in the Congress said that the high command’s directives to work towards cobbling like minded secular forces to keep BJP away could not be the solution. “The real problem is within the Congress which nobody wants to accept,” said a leader.
Whether it was the home turf of Sushilkumar Shinde in Solapur, Pantanrao Kadam’s Sangli, Prithviraj Chavan’s Satara or Amit Deshmukh’s Latur, the BJP’s inroads could not be blamed on manipulation of EVMs or money, said sources.
A former Congress minister from western Maharashtra said, “From in-house differences to the top leadership indifference, scenario across Maharashtra in successive local bodies’ elections between November 2016 and February 2017 showed the Congress in poor light.”
Out of the ten municipal corporations across the state, the Congress could not retain even one. Whereas, the BJP grabbed eight and was at par with the Sena in Mumbai.
The tally in municipal corporations polls where the BJP with 629 seats had only five less than the 634 seats won by all other parties — Shiv Sena (268), Congress (119), NCP (139), MNS (14) and others (94) — put together .In zilla parishad elections for total 1,509 seats, the BJP emerged clear winner with 406 seats while the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP could manage 271), 309 and 360 seats respectively. In the elections for the 2,990 panchayat samiti seats, the BJP won 803 seats while the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP registered win on 538, 555 and 630 seats respectively.
From former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to MPCC president Ashok Chavan, senior Congress leaders admitted that “the party will have to analyse the poll results to find where things have gone wrong”. While the top party leadership have exercised caution, awaiting AICC’s directives, second rung leaders were more vocal in discussing the organisational problems.
According to Congress (MLA) Ameen Patel, “The factionalism within the organisation should be immediately addressed. There should be a clear command.”
“Today from corporator to state president, nobody listens to anybody. While top leaders’ decision should be final, local leaders who are capable should be empowered,” he added.
Leader of the Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil said, “We have to do some serious introspection. We may have to redraw our strategies to strengthen our mass connect.”
The BJP’s inroads in the Congress bastion across western Maharashtra, Marathwada and complete rout in Vidarbha have also put a question mark on the established leaders capability.
In a candid admission, Amit Deshmukh said, “We have to analyse what exactly went wrong. I feel we should forge alliances in wake of the results (BJP leading) to avoid division of ideology and secular votes. It is not just about vote politics. But we have to unite for a common goal.”
While advocating the need to infuse young leadership in the organisation to strengthen the base at grass roots, he said, “I believe the Congress has a huge potential and mass connect. But we have to bring the change from the top to bottom.”
The common complain from the party workers is that the Congress is “operating like a private limited company”. Secondly, nobody is fixing responsibility on leaders.
Anant Gadgil, MLC and chief spokesperson of the MPCC, said, “The activities which often mobilise the workers and help in mass connect through shivirs, meetings have completely stopped for the last few years.”
The Pune Congress office often wears a deserted look as all the activities related to party affairs have shifted to individual leader’s home, which has become the Congress centre. “We have become individual centric instead of a party,” he observed.