The NCP supremo and Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan shared the stage at the rally in Akola, Vidarbha
Like the blazing sun, the index of coalition unity between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) seems high in the 10 Vidarbha seats that go to the polls in four days time.
At 39 degrees Celsius, there’s a sparse crowd at 11 a.m. on a Sunday for a joint Congress-NCP rally to be addressed by Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and NCP warhorse, and Union Agriculture Minister, Sharad Pawar. “I have never seen the Congress and NCP work so closely together,” Dr. Zishan Hussain, the State Youth Congress general secretary, tells The Hindu.
Is it because they have their backs to the wall and think that the BJP and Narendra Modi are going to upset their carefully laid out plans?
Dr. Hussain and other Congress leaders The Hindu spoke to are confident in their assertions that the coalition’s seats might come down in the State but they would win at least 20. They don’t see any Modi effect.
Akola is a seat that the Congress last won back in 1989. It’s also the only seat in Maharashtra’s 48 where the party has put up a Muslim candidate, Hidayat Patel, this time.
Even Congress insiders concede that Akola was a difficult call for them and that sitting MP Sanjay Dhotre was likely to win again.
Currently, the Congress-NCP combine has five out of the 10 Vidarbha seats and the party is hoping to net at least three this time — Ramtek, Wardha and Yavatmal. They hope to do better in other parts of Maharashtra.
To keep the slowly building crowd busy, Madan Bhargad, ex-mayor of Akola, is deployed. His voice is hoarse from campaigning. Finally, a little after noon, Mr. Chavan and Mr. Pawar appear.
Next to speak is Jogendra Kawade of the People’s Republican Party, an ally of the Congress-NCP combine. The tall, bearded Mr. Kawade is biting in his criticism of Mr. Modi, who seems to be the reference point in all the speeches.
In response to Mr. Modi’s call for a Congress-mukt (free) Bharat, Mr. Kawade lashes out at the BJP and the RSS: “Chaddi pahan ke nahin aai aazadi [freedom was not won by those who wear khaki shorts].”
Mr. Pawar, who speaks at the end, is almost as scathing about Mr. Modi as Mr. Kawade. “We can’t have the country being ruled by one man. This is very dangerous for the country and we can’t allow one man to usurp power.”
Taking issue with Mr. Modi for touting the Gujarat “model” as the one for the whole country, Mr. Pawar reels off the names of Congress Chief Ministers under whom Gujarat performed even better. “In Gujarat, enterprise is in people’s blood. It has nothing to do with Modi per se.”