One of the few states that was once considered a Congress stronghold, Maharashtra slipped out of the Congress grip first in 1995 and then in 2014, and the party now struggles to make a comeback fighting all odds, within and outside.
The Congress has ruled the prosperous west Indian state for 52 years since it was founded on May 1, 1960 — either solo, or through alliances, or via one or the other breakaway factions.
It was in 1995 that the sun first set on the party and the first real non-Congress government of Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance came to power and governed a full term.
The Congress bounced back in the 1999 Assembly elections, with a reduced majority, formed an alliance with the breakaway Nationalist Congress Party (NCP-1999), and they ruled for 15 years.
During the BJP wave unleashed by Narendra Modi, who became the Prime Minister in 2014, the Congress-NCP government was also washed away.
After five years, in 2019, it rebounded as an ally in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government comprising Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress, which was toppled after two-and-a-half years, while the party grappled with severe ‘leakages’ at various levels.
“The problems largely started around a decade ago when the BJP took recourse to caste-communal politics, subverting institutions, false narratives, raising irrelevant matters while ignoring the real and burning problems of the economy, inflation, unemployment, farmers, women, youth, etc,” said Congress working President Naseem Khan.
He argued that now the people have realised the hollow claims of the Modi regime and are gradually veering around to clean, ethical, values and issue-based politics that Congress represents.
Khan denies that the state Congress is crumbling and pointed to its growing influence in the past few years at local, state and national levels, indicating how its mass support base remains largely intact.
A former four-time Congress MP feels that the state unit is plagued by infighting — as in other states or even at the national level — for which it had to pay dearly in 2014, and joining the MVA in 2019 was a ‘compromise’ to keep the BJP at bay.
“Many state leaders remain busy on social media, give lousy TV bytes or issue bland statements that are ignored Instead, they must go for ‘mass-connect’, reach out to understand people’s grievances, open channels with other like-minded parties, take up public-oriented campaigns etc., since modern-day politics is very different from the pre-2000 era,” he said, requesting anonymity.
A present state office-bearer confided how the current AICC Maharashtra in-charge, S.K. Patil, is reportedly adapting “a lackadaisical approach, barely communicates in Hindi or rarely goes beyond Mumbai, cutting himself off from the ‘actual ground problems’ afflicting the party organisation”.
“Earlier, some of the AICC in-charges (like Mallikarjun Kharge) could even communicate in Marathi, would crack the whip during crises, tour different parts of the state, interact with district-level workers, and keep their fingers on the pulse of the party and the people,” he pointed out.
Mumbai Congress North Indian Cell Vice-President V.P. Singh feels many ‘inefficient or disinterested’ persons have been foisted both in the party at various levels, affecting the party workers’ morale and creating more rifts that are exploited by the opponents, citing various examples.
“What we need is to rebuild the party at the booth level with committed activists who will strengthen the district, the state and the national-level organisation. This aspect has been lost as many leaders prefer greenhorn sycophants over experienced performers with mass outreach,” rued Singh.
Khan confidently asserted that the Congress is readying for the Assembly polls, whenever they are held, and is optimistic of regaining its numero uno status soon, both in the Assembly and Parliamentary elections.
Fortunately, most leaders are buoyed by the ongoing Bharat Jodo Yatra led by Rahul Gandhi and the Indian National Congress Presidential elections, with a united chorus that it would do “a sea of good and invigorate the party from bottom to the top” for future challenges.
“The response to Rahulji across the BJY route is phenomenal and has ‘electrified’ the entire party. By the time it is completed, the Congress will re-emerge as a major force to reckon with in the 2024 elections Already certain actions of the BJP betray their deep worries,” said Khan.
Several other party leaders at different levels echo similar sentiments, and strongly express the need “to rebuild the party on a war-footing”, opening party offices at the village levels (rural) or ward levels (urban), counter or expose the government policies at all levels, aggressively woo the media, and top national leaders should tour different states regularly for feedback.
In conclusion, notwithstanding the conviction by many leaders, the Congress in the state indeed faces a tough challenge to resurrect itself to its preeminent status — before it ‘leaks’ afresh
(Quaid Najmi can be contacted at: email@example.com)