Congress must fight, for starters, to be leader of opposition

An American author, Napoleon Hill once said, “When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound, rebuild those plans, and get set once more towards your coveted goal.”

The same goes for the 134-year-old Congress party and Maharashtra, where elections are due on October 21. Despite three consecutive defeats — twice in the Lok Sabha and once in the Vidhan Sabha, Congressmen are in no mood to rectify their shortcomings, but are rather busy blaming the BJP for its enormous money power.

For a long period, 35 years since its inception, Maharashtra remained a Congress citadel, though it was governed briefly for 18 months, with the then Jana Sangh and Socialist leaders. One should not forget this government was led by the erstwhile Congressman Sharad Pawar.

Maharashtra got its first real non-Congress government in 1995, which was headed by the Shiv Sena strongman Manohar Joshi, with the BJP's Gopinath Munde as deputy chief minister. After that, the state was ruled by a coalition of Congress and the NCP for three consecutive terms.

But the situation metamorphosised during the Lok Sabha elections of 2014, which saw the Modi wave grip Maharashtra, with the BJP-Sena getting the lion's share.

In subsequent assembly elections, the two sets of allies split into four, with all of them contesting separately. In this bizarre competition, the BJP was the winner with 122 seats followed by the Shiv Sena with 63, the Congress with 43 and the NCP with 42.

Realising their mistake in going it alone, the Congress-NCP regrouped for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, only to suffer another humiliating defeat in the state. The assembly-wise performance of Congress and the NCP was so low that Congress was leading in only 22 assembly segments while NCP was in 23.

Based on these statistics and buoyed by the onrush of nearly 30 sitting Congress and NCP legislators, Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadanvis went on to say that after the assembly elections, like in the Lok Sabha, there be no any leader of the opposition in Maharashtra legislative assembly either.

The rule is only a party, which gets more than 10% of the total seats of the House can be the leader of the Opposition. The Congress had just 44 seats in 2014, which went up to 52 in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, failing to make the mark two.

Coming to the state assembly, with a House strength of 288, a party needs at least 29 seats to get the status of leader of the opposition. Going by their respective performances in the recent Lok Sabha elections, neither the Congress nor the NCP are in a position to reach to that figure. Both parties are plagued by continuous defections, miserably affecting their winning strength.

The mood in the Congress, which ruled the state for close to 50 years since the latter's inception, seems to already be defeatist. Their leaders privately admit that their combined performance may not exceed 75 seats.

The Congress blames this on the BJP's enormous money power, its corporate-style micro-planning, the abundancy of committed party workers and its vigorous social media campaign. This is approximately the same response by the Congress after it was practically decimated in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.

The question is why the Congress, with a history spanning 134 years and having ruled the country for 55 years, is unable to counter a communal party like the BJP.

The party has contributed to the rise of many. Many of its members have held important positions and made their fortune. Now, when the party is in disarray, it obligatory for these people to help the party. But unfortunately, no such leader has coming forward, except the NCP supremo Sharad Pawar.

It seems as though all are busy taking care of their own constituencies. On the other hand, the BJP seems to be more articulate and way ahead in this matter, having built a huge party office in New Delhi.

The exodus from the Congres to the BJP and the Shiv Sena is mainly because of the widespread belief that the Congress-NCP combine will not be able to come to power.

Which reminds one of the old saying, rats desert a ship when it starts sinking. The cream-of-the-crop desertions were those by the leader of the opposition, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil (who joined the BJP) and Rana Jagjitsingh Patil, a relative of Sharad Pawar, who also joined the BJP.

In the midst of the desertions, the only ‘rock of Gibraltar’, who defied the threats of the enforcement directorate, was the 80-year-old Sharad Pawar. It is essential for Congress stalwarts to follow in his footsteps and flex muscles for the upcoming electoral battle.

The BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh for three consecutive terms and was also in power in Rajasthan.

Now, after winning a second popular mandate, the BJP’s focus is to maintain its stronghold in the highly commercial state of Maharashtra, which rakes in the maximum revenue. For this, the party has unwillingly allied with the Shiv Sena.

The Congress leadership needs to introspect and rethink its strategies , before it is too late. And, Maharashtra may not have a leader of the opposition, at all.

—Jayant Malnkar is a political commentator and senior journalist

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