The contretemps over the Nashik graduates’ constituency seat in the upcoming Maharashtra Legislative Council (MLC) polls have not only exposed the raging factionalism within the Maharashtra Congress, but cast a shadow over the future tenability of the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi troika of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Congress and the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction.
Last week, the Congress’ (and the MVA’s) chosen candidate for the Nashik seat, three-time MLC Sudhir Tambe, abruptly withdrew his nomination, while his son, Satyajeet Tambe — a former Maharashtra Youth Congress president — announced his candidature as an Independent.
Mr. Satyajeet, while stressing he remained a Congress loyalist, said he would seek support of all parties, including the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Congress high command, accusing the father-son duo of ‘deceiving’ the party, has instituted disciplinary action against them.
But the implications of the Tambes’ rebellion go far beyond immediate local consequences. Mr. Satyajeet is the nephew of senior Congressman and former Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat.
According to sources, the affinity between Mr. Satyajeet and the BJP increased after the former was miffed at the party’s neglect of his aspirations, and reportedly upset over Mr. Thorat promoting his daughter Jayashree Thorat.
The schism between uncle and nephew mirrors the cracks within the Maharashtra Congress, while having a domino effect on the relations of the Congress vis-a-vis the NCP and the Thackeray Sena.
The Tambe revolt, which caught the Congress napping, has now led to the Nashik seat — a sure winner for the party — being ceded to the Thackeray camp in exchange for the Nagpur teachers’ constituency seat, which was initially allotted to the Thackeray Sena. This swap essentially weakens prospects for both parties in these seats, where neither is particularly strong.
The Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) has privately expressed its chagrin at the exchange. With the MVA in a spot in Nashik and Nagpur, the ruling BJP is in the driver’s seat in the upcoming elections to the five MLC seats, to be held on January 30.
The Nashik fiasco again raises the bogey of ‘poor coordination’ between the MVA partners. The litany of embarrassments faced by the tripartite collation can be traced from the Rajya Sabha polls to six seats in Maharashtra in June last year, when the MVA government — under then CM Uddhav Thackeray — was in power.
Going by each party’s numbers, the BJP was set to win two, the Congress and NCP were slated to win one each, and the Shiv Sena the remaining two. Yet, the BJP led by Devendra Fadnavis rattled the MVA by scoring a surprise victory on the sixth Rajya Sabha seat by cannily securing support of Independent MLAs believed to be loyal to the MVA.
While bitter recrimination ensued within the MVA after the RS poll result, worse was to follow: a few days later, the BJP managed to get all of their five candidates elected in the MLC polls for 10 seats.
The three MVA parties, each fielding two candidates, were expected to win six. However, the Congress’ second candidate crashed, leading to accusations of cross-voting within the party in favour of the BJP’s fifth candidate. The twin poll debacles were then capped that month with Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde’s biggest intra-party revolt splitting the Sena, and bringing down the Thackeray-led MVA.
Now, Mr. Satyajeet’s revolt has raised the spectre of a Congress exodus ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Assembly elections. Party insiders say that ticket distribution continues to plague the Congress, with the party preferring the same old faces, while neglecting youthful aspirations.
Compounding this is the leadership of current Maharashtra Congress chief Nana Patole — a former BJP man who is perceived an ‘outsider’ by senior Congressmen like Mr. Thorat and Ashok Chavan.
The Nashik fiasco has proved serious enough for NCP chief Sharad Pawar to comment that systematic handling might have prevented the controversy. With poor co-ordination dogging the MVA for the better part of 2022, the three parties — particularly the Congress — need to work harder if they are to take on the might of the BJP and the Shinde Sena.