Mumbai: Maharashtra Congress president Nana Patole has been constantly making declarations about his party wanting to contest future elections independently, often creating friction within the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), a coalition that also includes the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).
However, an analysis of election results for the Lok Sabha, state assembly and civic bodies of five key cities in Maharashtra shows that the Congress’ performance has been increasingly dull in the state where the party was born and which it has led for the bulk of its existence.
The Congress’ vote share in Maharashtra in the Lok Sabha and assembly elections has steadily dropped between 2004 — when the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) won a second consecutive term in office in the state — and 2019. Its fate has been similar in the civic polls in Mumbai, Pune, Nashik and Thane, between 2002 and 2017.
In the fifth city, Nagpur, the Congress has managed to marginally increase its vote share, though the number of its corporators in the local municipal corporation has slipped.
All five cities are scheduled to face civic polls in early 2022.
Since 2002, the Congress has gone solo in a number of these elections. For instance, in Mumbai, the Congress fought the 2002, 2007 and 2017 elections solo. At the state level too, the 2014 assembly elections were fought solo.
Asked about the party’s performance, Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant pegged its falling vote share in cities to the “Modi wave”, but said it didn’t reflect a trend.
“Our vote share in urban areas has drastically come down, especially after 2014, because of the Modi wave as the urban middle class shifted to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in large numbers. But, this has happened with Opposition parties across the country, and we think that this is an aberration more than a general trend.”
‘Congress intent on contesting civic polls solo’
Patole has consistently made statements that his party will fight upcoming elections, even the 2024 Lok Sabha and assembly polls, solo.
His “going solo” remarks, as well as allegations that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray (Shiv Sena) and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar (NCP) have been keeping a tab on him, have angered all three MVA constituents.
On Tuesday, Patole met former Congress president Rahul Gandhi in Delhi, after which he appeared to have toned down his stand, but insisted the party will go it alone in the upcoming civic elections.
“There is no doubt that the MVA government will complete five years… Assembly and Lok Sabha elections are still three years away. The high command will decide about these elections. There is no point in discussing it now, but the Congress will contest the upcoming local body elections independently in Maharashtra,” Patole told reporters.
Speaking to ThePrint, Sawant said the party has “so far contested most of the local body elections independently even when we were in an alliance with the NCP at the state level”.
“Local body elections are an opportunity for party workers to strengthen the party. In principle, we will contest the upcoming civic elections solo, but the Congress’ practice has been that the high command takes the opinions of the local city leadership into consideration before taking a decision. The same practice will be followed,” he added.
Tepid performance in civic polls
In early 2022, 10 municipal corporations will go to the polls in Maharashtra. These include the state’s five economically and politically significant cities of Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Nashik and Thane.
In Mumbai, the Congress’ vote share slid to 15.94 per cent in the 2017 municipal election — the latest BMC polls — from 26.48 per cent in 2002, according to data from the Maharashtra State Election Commission (SEC).
Currently, the Congress has just 31 corporators in the 227-member civic body as compared to 52 in 2012, 71 in 2007, and 61 in 2002.
In Pune, SEC data shows, the Congress has suffered a similar drubbing over the years. The party garnered a vote share of 8.63 per cent in the 2017 polls, as compared to 31.09 per cent in 2002. The number of Congress corporators in the Pune Municipal Corporation slumped to 9 out of 162 in 2017, down from 61 out of 146 in 2002.
In Nashik, the Congress’ vote share fell to 4.73 per cent in 2017, from 19.97 per cent in 2002. It currently has six seats in the 122-member general body, as compared to 16 among 108 in 2002.
In Thane, a Mumbai satellite, the Congress’ 2017 vote share stood at 6.24 per cent, compared to 23.3 per cent in 2002. The party now has just three corporators in the 131-member civic body, compared to 13 among 116 in 2002. The party’s seats in Thane marginally increased to 16 and 18 in the 2007 and 2012 civic polls, respectively, but its vote share has declined.
However, in Nagpur in Vidarbha, where the Congress has been jostling for space along with the rival BJP, the party has seen its vote share grow marginally, to 28.16 per cent in 2017 from 27.74 per cent in 2002. Even so, the number of Congress corporators in the Nagpur Municipal Corporation dropped to 29 in a house of 151 in 2017, from 41 of 145 in 2012.
In the Lok Sabha and assembly elections too, the Congress’ vote share has steadily decreased. Where it got a vote share of 23.77 per cent in the 2004 Lok Sabha elections and 21.06 per cent in that year’s assembly polls, its tally fell to 16.4 per cent and 15.87 per cent, respectively, in 2019.
While Congress leaders officially cite the increasing footprint of the BJP as the reason behind the decline in its vote share in Maharashtra, infighting and lack of coordination within its leadership at the state level — and also in some cities — has cost the party dearly.
The infighting within the Congress’ Mumbai unit came to the fore after the 2017 civic polls, when the party posted its worst-ever defeat in the city. The then Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam offered to step down, taking responsibility for the defeat, but in a series of tweets blamed the “immense negativity spread by certain party leaders to harm the campaign”.
A senior state Congress functionary said, “Even today, there is no cohesiveness between state Congress president Patole and the leader of the Congress in the legislative assembly Balasaheb Thorat. As a result, there is no comprehensive strategy for the party in the state.”
(Edited by Sunanda Ranjan)