Congress in the backfoot
By taking a decision to retain the Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, the Congress leadership has confirmed once again that it is a status quo party. Only a few days ago the Haryana chief minister B S Hooda got a reprieve when it was announced that he too was not going to be changed. Both the states are going for polls in the next few months. It is nobody’s case that changing the chief minister just a few months before the elections is the answer to the problem but the party has also to take note of the rebellion within and outside. The only relief is that the uncertainty has ended. The Congress rebels and the NCP who had serious reservations about Chavan are now expected to work with him. Will they?
A sustained campaign had been going on after the Lok Sabha polls to change these chief ministers but the leadership is not willing to change horses at the last mile. The rebels were arguing that under Chavan’s lackluster leadership the Congress would not be able to come back. A section within the Congress, comprising ministers such as Narayan Rane, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil and Ashok Chavan and their supporters were working for change in the leadership.
Interestingly, the NCP, which is a coalition partner, also has been seeking a change. If anyone expected that the two parties would work well at the grass root level, it has not happened. On the contrary, the NCP chief Sharad Pawar does not want Chavan to lead the campaign and prefers former Home Union minister Sushil Kumar Shinde. The NCP has emerged the stronger of the two In the Lok Sabha polls. The Congress won two seats with 16 per cent of votes while the NCP won four seats with 18 per cent vote share. So, the NCP wants a fifty/ fifty seat sharing in the Assembly polls. But the seat sharing has always been a tricky issue for both as they insist on a higher share till the last minute. NCP chief Sharad Pawar had held several meetings with the Congress leaders and he was even offered to lead the combine in the polls, which he had turned it down.
The Congress-NCP combine, which has been in power for the past 15 years, is now bidding for power for the fourth time. The mood of the people is for a change. Therefore the anti-incumbency is staring at its face and both the parties know the difficulties in coming back to power. The recent reservation gimmick for the Marathas and Muslims in the state is likely to boomerang on the Congress-NCP alliance. There is drought, economy is not doing well, farmer’s suicides are on the increase, the cooperative sector is not doing well and on the whole the ruling combine is not in the happiest of the situation. The two parties came together in 1999 after Sharad Pawar floated the NCP and won an impressive number of seats. The two – despite ups and downs – managed to remain together these 15 years and the speculation is they may continue to do so. If at all there is any separation, it will be only after the polls as Pawar is slowly moving towards Narendra Modi. Recently, the NCP did not walk out along with the Congress on the TRAI ordinance issue in Parliament.
On the other hand, the Shiv Sena-BJP combine who is leading the opposition too is not in the pink of health as there are differences emerging fast. The Sena has already declared its chief Uddhav Thackeray as its chief ministerial candidate. The old relationship between its founder Balasaheb Thackeray and senior BJP leader L K Advani is not there anymore. The BJP is in an upbeat mood after the spectacular success in the recent Lok Sabha polls and wants a fifty-fifty seat sharing with the Sena in the Assembly polls. It is important for the party to maintain the momentum gathered from its big performance in the recent polls. But it has the handicap of not having any charismatic chief ministerial candidate after the untimely death of Gopinath Munde in May this year.
The Sena has a different problem as it is facing trouble from the MNS led by Raj Thackeray headed by Balasaheb Thackeray’s nephew. Raj Thackeray is spoiling for a fight and has declared himself the chief ministerial candidate. Raj had declared support to the BJP before the Lok Sabha elections. However the MNS came a cropper in the Lok Sabha polls and at the most might get a few seats where it has pockets of influence.
On the whole in the emerging poll scenario, in the two alliances, NCP and BJP may have an upper hand. The hype for seat sharing and threats will continue until the last minute but the Congress-NCP combine is placed in a disadvantaged position compared to earlier years.