Campaigning for the Maharashtra assembly polls will come to a close on Saturday without the Congress-NCP alliance — the principal opposition formation in the contest — holding a single joint rally.
While NCP patriarch Sharad Pawar has been the main campaigner for the alliance has campaigned all over the state, Congress’s first family, the Gandhi family, has been missing from the action.
Polling for the Maharashtra and Haryana assembly elections will take place on October 21. The counting of votes is scheduled for October 24.
While the Congress had included names of party president Sonia Gandhi and daughter Priyanka in its list of star campaigners for the elections in both states, neither addressed any public meeting in either of the two states. Maharashtra and Haryana are the first states to go to polls after Sonia Gandhi took over the party’s reins in August.
On Friday, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma, who was in Mumbai for campaigning, attributed Gandhi’s absence to “ill-health”.
Gandhi, 73, has reduced her public engagements particularly election related in the recent past. Senior Congress leaders, meanwhile, said that Priyanka was “busy” overseeing the party’s election campaigns for bypolls to 11 assembly seats in Uttar Pradesh, which are being held on the same day.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi campaigned in Maharashtra for just two days, addressing six public meetings in all.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, the leader of Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, whose name also figured in the list of star campaigners, too stayed away from campaigning. While former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did not address an election rally, he was in Mumbai on Thursday for a party-organised lecture and a press conference.
At the start of the election campaign, the Congress had issued a list of 40 star campaigners for the Maharashtra assembly polls. But with a majority of its central leaders either staying away or limiting their campaign schedule to just one or two days and most of the state leaders busy with elections in their own constituencies, Congress’s election campaign in the state has been low-key. Party sources admitted that the Congress was not upbeat about its prospects in both the states. Sources also said that the ongoing turf war between Gandhi loyalists and Rahul’s supporters in the party has also cast a shadow on the campaign.
A state Congress leader admitted that the national party was relying mainly on Pawar’s pull among voters and the connect of its candidates in their own constituencies to notch up wins in party strongholds.
The BJP, on the other hand, has been carpet-bombing Maharashtra with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister and BJP president Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, and Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addressing a series of election rallies. For BJP’s ally, the Shiv Sena, party president Uddhav Thackeray and son Aaditya have addressed several rallies across the state.
The Congress-NCP alliance, meanwhile, is also hoping that Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray’s campaign in Marathi strongholds in urban belts dents Sena’s support base in the region. MNS is contesting the elections independently.