After split in allies Sena & NCP, Congress gets cracking in Maharashtra to ensure it isn’t next


New Delhi: After Ajit Pawar split from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to join the NDA government in Maharashtra, ostensibly due to a BJP manoeuvre, the Congress is trying to ensure that it will not be next. With 45 MLAs in the Maharashtra assembly, the Congress now finds itself as the single-largest Opposition party in the state, now that its two other alliance partners in the state have faced an internal split.

On Tuesday, the Congress’ Maharashtra unit will hold a meeting with its 45 MLAs to take stock of the situation, ensure that the flock stays together and consolidate its voter base. At the meeting the Congress is expected to decide on the name of its LOP and stake claim to the position.

“It has become clear how the BJP misuses its power at the Centre. They are ruining the politics of the country in the name of ‘Operation Lotus’. They can do anything for power. Enticing some with money, intimidating others with the agencies and then bringing them to their fold has become the playbook of the BJP,” said Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole Monday.

While the numbers now make the Congress the principal Opposition, giving a boost to the party’s prospects in the state, leaders are clear that this does them no favours within the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance. The chief reason being the absence of a face like Sharad Pawar or Uddhav Thackeray in its state unit. Factionalism within the state Congress, that has surfaced in the past, is another reason.

As per political analysts, however, the Congress could use this opportunity to cement its core voter base in Maharashtra.

“The Shiv Sena under Uddhav has become a weak party and they’re struggling to retain their identity in Maharashtra politics. After that, NCP was stronger. Now, the NCP is also in trouble. So, the only party that remains whole in the Opposition benches is the Congress. The Congress should certainly use this opportunity to consolidate its base,” said Ravikiran Deshmukh, a political analyst from Maharashtra.

As of now, the Congress is playing its cards cautiously and waiting for the exact number of NCP MLAs who have jumped ship with Ajit Pawar to become clear. The party is also waiting for a decision on the disqualification of Maharashtra CM Eknath Shinde and other MLAs who split from the Uddhav faction of the Sena last year to form a government with the BJP.

Also read: How NCP’s Pawar vs Pawar feud is in keeping with Maharashtra’s tradition of uncle-nephew conflicts

‘Ajit Pawar brought in to allow smooth transition’

Speaking to ThePrint, a senior Congress leader said that though Leader of Opposition is an important constitutional position, and which the Congress will now claim, the move doesn’t have any far-reaching implications on the party’s position in the alliance.

The party is also working under the assumption that if Shinde and the other Sena rebels were to be disqualified, then it may also herald a reverse influx into the Uddhav faction.

The Congress is also of the opinion that Ajit Pawar was brought in to allow a smooth transition if Shinde is disqualified. If he indeed has more than 36 MLAs to skirt the anti-defection law, then it would mean that the NCP split would ensure that the NDA still has the numbers.

“The disqualification matter is pending with the Speaker. He has to decide before 10 August. Our understanding is that it is an open and shut case and he will be disqualified. So, we think that this is a pre-emptive measure. If he is disqualified, then there will be a smooth transition,” said the leader.

“There was also talk that Ajit Pawar would not be happy with deputy CM and that he wanted the CM’s post. Maybe the BJP has succumbed and has told Ajit Pawar that he can take over when Shinde is disqualified,” he added.

‘Congress should focus on its core base’

Another Congress leader said that just like the Uddhav Sena and Pawar will go back to their core voter base, the Congress should use this opportunity to do the same.

“I think the route of the Bharat Jodo Yatra was a good one,” said the Congress leader quoted above. “We passed through the Vidarbha region and did not touch Western Maharashtra (stronghold of NCP) or the Konkan region (stronghold of the Shiv Sena).”

“Both the Shiv Sena and the NCP have stalwart leaders who are the face of the party, even though they may have been cornered now. Since the Congress is a national party, it will help in keeping the opposition together. We will also now be in the alliance as a senior partner. But it is unlikely that we will be calling the shots in the alliance even now. The focus should be on consolidation.”

(Edited by Zinnia Ray Chaudhuri)

Also read: After NCP coup, Sharad Pawar expels Praful Patel, Sunil Tatkare; rebels ‘sack’ Pawar’s men



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