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Battling internal rifts, Cong stares at an uphill challenge

September 22, 2019 05:25 AM


Battling internal rifts, Cong stares at an uphill challenge

Congress supporters during a rally in Odisha in March. ht file
Aurangzeb Naqshbandi

New Delhi : With state elections in Maharashtra and Haryana a month away , the Congress is staring at a tough challenge in both states.

For the first time after it joined hands with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in 1999, the Congress appears to be playing second fiddle to Maratha strongman Sharad Pawar’s party in the run-up to the October 21 polls in Maharashtra. And in Haryana, the party is struggling to paper over bitter internal rivalries under a new state unit chief and galvanise an otherwise demoralised and weakened cadre.

In Maharashtra, not only has the Congress agreed to share an equal number of seats – 125 -- with the NCP, it also seems to have given Pawar the lead role in countering the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena combine.

Realising that Pawar, 78, could pose a threat in the polls, the ruling coalition has upped the ante against the NCP and poached many top NCP leaders. Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s primary target in his Nashik rally on Thursday was Pawar and not the Congress.

Political analysts say Pawar is trying to consolidate the alliance. “He is the only leader who is extensively touring the state. Many senior NCP leaders have quit and joined either the BJP or the Shiv Sena. On the other hand, the Congress appears to have lost the fighting spirit,” said Mumbai-based political analyst Abhay Deshpande.

In the 1999 assembly elections, the Congress emerged as the single largest party with 75 out of the total 288 assembly seats.

The NCP bagged 58.The two parties joined hands to form a coalition government, nearly five months after the Congress expelled Pawar, along with PA Sangma and Tariq Anwar, for opposing Sonia Gandhi’s projection as the party’s prime ministerial candidate.

The two parties then fought the 2004 and 2009 assembly elections in alliance with the Congress fighting more seats each time. In 2004, the NCP won more seats than the Congress but conceded the chief minister’s post. The NCP bagged 71 seats while the Congress won 69. In 2009, the Congress won 82 seats, 20 more than the NCP’s tally of 62.

But in 2014, the alliance came apart after disagreements over seat distribution as the NCP insisted on fighting an equal number of seats – 144 each.As a result, the two parties were ousted from power and the BJP took over the reins of the state.

“Congress is clearly playing a second fiddle to the NCP. Sensing defeat, many of their strong candidates are not willing to contest the elections. And on many seats, the party is not able to find suitable candidates who can give some fight to the BJP and the Shiv Sena,” Deshpande said

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