Battle for Maharashtra: BJP-Sena & NCP big guns boom all around, Congress stands faceless

As Maharashtra witnesses an all-out blitzkrieg by BJP-Shiv Sena and Pawar-led NCP, Coongress stands an exception as it has no pan-Maharashtra leader who can counter the rival side.

In the nearly month-long campaign for the Maharashtra Assembly election the politically heavyweight western state has witnessed an all-out blitzkrieg by the topmost leaders of ruling BJP-Shiv Sena combine from both the state and Centre and, by Sharad Pawar-led NCP. But the Congress, for which Maharashtra used to be the jewel in the party’s crown for nearly half a century, stands an exception with no pan-Maharashtra leader to counter the rival side or back up ally NCP.

The fact that very little covering fire came from the Delhi high command of the party completes the grand leadership crisis of the grand old party in this battle for Maharashtra. This is in complete contrast to the star-studded BJP-Sena campaign and Pawar-powered NCP’s fightback efforts. While BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is campaigning across the state even while contesting from his seat,PM Modi has addressed nearly 10 rallies across the state including in Mumbai, Pune,Satara, Parli, Panval, Partur, Jalgaon, Sakoli and Akola. BJP president and Home Minister Amit Shah addressed almost 20 rallies across the state. Many BJP CMs too came to join the saffron campaign.

While Uddhav and Aditya Thackerays have campaigned for Shiv Sena in many parts, on the Opposition front, Sharad Pawar, braving his age and health issues, has surprised friends and foes by launching a high-voltage campaign across the state.


What completes the irony of the leadership crisis of the Congress in the campaign here is the fact that the Congress Party, otherwise, has many ‘decorated leaders’ on paper – both in the state and at the Delhi central leadership of the party. The Maharashtra Congress has three former chief ministers still in functional mode – Prithviraj Chavan, Ashok Chavan and Sushil Kumar Shinde. Further, there are half a dozen designated “Congress central leaders” from Maharashtra – AICC general secretaries Mukul Wasnik and Avinash Pandey, AICC in-charges Rajeev Satav and Rajani Patil and CWC member-cum-PCC chief Balasaheb Thorat.

Yet, not one of them possesses a state-wide campaign appeal and, almost all of them are confined to their respective constituencies or cocoons. This has driven home the point that apart from high-sounding designations, these Congress leaders lack mass appeal to power the party campaign in a manner many of their illustrious predecessors had done in the past.

Completing the Congress meltdown in the Maharashtra campaign field is the equally shoddy back-up that came from the AICC. Rahul Gandhi’s campaign in Maharashtra in a couple of days expectedly didn’t provide his party campaign any propeller. Congress president SoniaGandhi’s anticipated joint-rally with Pawar didn’t materialise as she dropped out of Maharashtra tour just as she did in Haryana apparently because of health issues. AICC general secretary Priyanka Gandhi too didn’t venture out as she seems to be now confined only to her UP brief. While another AICC general secretary Jyotiraditya Scindia did make some campaign sorties in the state, Ex-PM Manmohan Singh and some AICC spokespersons confined themselves to indoor press conferences. Many here are also surprised at the AICC's decision not to enlist some senior Congress leaders with mass appeal from neighbouring states to shore up the Maharashtra campaign.
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Looking at the ‘starless’ present Congress in Maharashtra, many in the political circles here recall how the Maharashtra Congress used to be the envy of its rivals for decades for showcasing a plethora of heavyweight leaders -- from Yashwantrao Chavan to Vasantrao Naik to Vasanthdada Patil to SB Chavan to Sharad Pawar to Vilasrao Deshhmukh – who used to carry the Congress campaign across the state using their mass appeal and organizational networks.

There is an impression here that the mediocre Congress campaign has not only failed to give a matching support to the NCP fightback, it has provided tactical respite for BJP-Sena in many areas when the saffron party is trying to tackle the incumbency burden in the state beneath the ruling side’s projected invincibility. “We don’t know why the Congress leaders in Maharashtra and Delhi are in such prolonged slumber. But then, we have to fight our battle with or without Congress’ support as the election field is not a sleeping bag”, said a senior NCP leader with a touch of anger and disappointment.

Asked who is leading the Congress campaign, a Congress functionary quipped, “Narasimha Rao ji used to say “Congress has invisible friends in Parliament”. Now let me add with due respect that the Congress Party has invisible leaders in the Maharashtra battlefield”. This Congress approach in the Maharashtra campaign, in many ways, also sums up the story of the Grand Old Party’s inability to learn from the post-2014 lessons and, how its current leadership crisis at multiple levels is sapping the party’s energy for a fightback.
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