Other State parties have made organisational changes leading into election year

While most other major political parties in Maharashtra are gearing up for the general elections in 2014 and have made organisational changes, the Congress lags behind, caught between not trying to emulate its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and its own organisational issues.

In June, the NCP appointed Bhaskar Jadhav as State president and Jitendra Avhad working president. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shiv Sena and Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) too have made State- and district-level appointments. While the NCP effected a Cabinet reshuffle of its own last month and tried to recast itself, the Congress refused yet to make its own long-overdue changes. Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan seems keen to change his ministers and would definitely prefer a new State president instead of Manikrao Thakre, whose hopes of being inducted into the Cabinet may not come to pass.

The All India Congress Committee (AICC) general-secretary in charge of Maharashtra, Mohan Prakash, and Mr. Chavan are not exactly the best of friends. While Mr. Chavan is stoic about Mr. Prakash’s appointment, things are far from being hunky-dory. When Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had come to Mumbai a while ago, there were public protestations against Mr. Prakash by party workers. Mr. Thakre has been around as State party president for about five years now and indications are that he may be replaced. Vidarbha has enjoyed more than its due share of State presidents and, this time round, the Congress may look elsewhere for its State leadership.

Mr. Chavan is facing simmering opposition from within his own party. Recently, there has been the resignation drama of Employment Guarantee Scheme Minister Nitin Raut over the regularisation of encroachments in his constituency, Nagpur north, which the Chief Minister refused to approve. Mr. Raut has denied reports that he made a scene during last Sunday’s Cabinet meeting and then threatened to resign. A section of the Congress was keen on backing him to replace Mr. Thakre as State president but that did not meet with approval from the organisation.

With party general secretary Rahul Gandhi endorsing the need for 50 per cent representation for women in the AICC and other party wings, chances of a woman candidate being fielded are also high. At the moment, party sources said, there is no woman at the helm of the party in any State.

The two State coalition members are frequently at loggerheads and the latest salvo has come from Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who attacked the Congress-led Law Ministry for its failure to ensure a watertight ban on dance bars, an accusation which did not stick in the apex court. Nevertheless, leaders of both parties are keen on contesting the Lok Sabha together and NCP president Sharad Pawar has made it quite clear that the alliance will continue.

The only question worrying the Congress is whether the MNS will join the saffron alliance. If it does, the Congress-NCP combine could face trouble in Mumbai, Pune, Thane and Nasik. For the NCP, the alliance is important as it won only eight seats in 2009 and is hoping to increase its tally. In a bid to queer the pitch for the NCP and its strident demand for reservation for Marathas as other backward classes (OBC), the State government asked Industries Minister Narayan Rane to examine the issue and submit a report. This committee has been given a six-month extension up to year-end. Mr. Chavan had agreed, as a face-saver, to set up such a panel after he was cornered by all parties, including members of the Congress. This despite the demand having been rejected by the State Backward Classes Commission time and again.

In 2012, the Congress’ reluctance to change its leadership in Mumbai and address the serious factionalism in the city unit proved costly with the Shiv Sena romping home for the fourth time in the prestigious civic elections. Now, with Janardhan Chandurkar as the Mumbai-unit president replacing the controversial Kripa Shankar Singh, and MP Gurudas Kamat’s appointment in the AICC, the party seeks to pour oil on troubled waters. Having paid the price for complacency once before, the party must get its act together if it is to avoid a dismal show in the crucial 2014 elections.