Has the Congress outwitted the BJP?

Battle between Maharashtra Congress chief and old-time loyalists manifest in Graduates constituency election from Nashik

Via Twitter
Via Twitter

Sujata Anandan

For the first time ever, the Congress seems to have got the better of the BJP in Maharashtra in recent years. 

As results to the elections to five state Legislative Council seats poured in late last week, it was clear the Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, comprising the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Cogress had been more popular among teachers and graduates. The BJP won only one seat in the Konkan while it lost even in Nagpur, which is the home turf of Union minister Nitin Gadkari, deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and state party president Chandrakant Bawankule.

Only one out of the five seats was doubtful - had the BJP won it or had the Congress? Satyajit Tambe, of the Youth Congress, had contested the Graduates seat as a rebel and the BJP had come all out in his support. He won the seat hands down and the BJP laid claim to that victory.

But now Tambe, who is the nephew of former Maharashtra revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat, a close confidante of Rahul Gandhi, has issued a categorical statement saying he is a bora Congressman and can never even think of joining any other political party. 

“I had some issues with the way tickets were distributed. But I do not have any problems with the party. I will remain a Congressnan till I die.”

The BJP, with a lot if egg on its face, has been rendered speechless. It is now obvious Tambe’s rebellion was against the high- handedness of the state Congress chief Nana Patole and not the party per se. Patole is a recent entrant from the BJP and thoseborn into traditional Congress families like Thorat and Tambe consider him a parvenu. Both Tambe and his s uncle maintained a studious silence through the poll campaign but now it is obvious that they may have together taken both Patole and the BJP for a ride, for neither sought BJP support nor did they  turn it down when it was vol7ntarily  offered.

But now Thorat is under pressure to clarify his stand, amid rumours that he will soon be tendering his resignation as leader of the Congress Legislature Party in the Maharashtra Assembly. It is unlikely, however, that he will quit the party per se as he has been always committed to the Congress under even adverse circumstances. However, the battle between Patole and Congress loyalists now seems to be coming to a head as they have ever liked his style of working and consider him too loud, overambitious and alien to the Congress culture of patient resilience. Some heads are expected to roll, however, though given his proximity to  Rahul Gandhi, it is unlikely to be Thorat's. Former chief minuster Prithviraj Chavan has already been tasked by party president Mallikarjun Kharge to intervene and settle the matter to satisfaction. 

The  BJP, however,  is clearly on the backfoot in Maharashtra for various reasons, not the least the flight of capital to Gujarat and the resultant loss of jobs to local youth. The Shinde faction  of the Shiv Sena has been unable to dent the Thackerays whose candidate won hands down after the  BJP had activated Navneet Rana, an independent MP and Ravi Rana,  her husband, an independent MLA  from the region, a SS(UBT) stronghold  against the MVA government on the loudspeaker issue during Ramzaan last year.

Now with by-election due to two Assembly seats in Pune, which is the  Pawars’ home turf, and being contested by the BJP, Chief Minister  Eknath Shinde has appealed to NCP president Sharad Pawar allow the BJP to contest it unopposed. Earlier, the  BJP had withdrawn its  candidate  against the SS(UBT) at a byelection in Andheri West in Mumbai but then activated its voters to vote NOTA in large numbers. The SS(UBT) still swept the polls.

Pawar has not responded to the appeal and it is not clear if the MVA will return the favour, both in terms of not putting up a candidate or activating their own NOTA voters.

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