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Lok Sabha elections 2024: Congress fate hangs in balance

Updated on: 01 April,2024 07:13 AM IST  |  Mumbai
Dharmendra Jore |

Rank and file find it hard to digest that the party is about to get just one Lok Sabha seat to contest in Mumbai where it had five

Lok Sabha elections 2024: Congress fate hangs in balance

Rahul Gandhi along with INDIA bloc leaders in Mumbai in March. Pic/Rane Ashish

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Lok Sabha elections 2024: Congress fate hangs in balance

Dharmendra JoreA childhood friend from the Wardha district, a die-hard Congress sympathiser, sounded upset on Saturday. He said the ‘hand’ won’t be seen any longer in the Wardha constituency, because the NCP-Sharad Pawar had fielded its candidate. “Why?” he wondered. He said it is where the Sevagram Ashram, Mahatma Gandhi’s home from 1936 to his death in 1948, is. It is from where the Mahatma guided the Congress and the independence movement, he said, apparently miffed by the idea that the symbol he had voted forever, may not return to Wardha.

“The local Congress leaders say they didn't have a suitable candidate to take on the BJP. But as it turned out, a former Congress MLA ultimately became NCP’s candidate. What do you make of it?" the irritated friend asked. I told him that historically significant Wardha wasn’t the only constituency that was lost to the ally and that the Congress was on the verge of losing a major chunk of its share in Mumbai, where the party was founded over a century ago. I told him further that the party might lose whatever is left of it in the Mumbai metropolitan region (MMR) and elsewhere in Maharashtra.

The tele-con prompted me to look at what was happening here. Mumbai’s Congress workers are rumbling against both their high command and ally Shiv Sena (UBT), because they fear they are not going to get more than one seat. The ‘hand’ faces extinction in five seats where it had won in the past, they say, hoping that the party's high command could do something. It is the same top leadership that had come calling at the iconic Shivaji Park early this month to celebrate the conclusion of Rahul Gandhi's ‘Bharat Jodo Nyaya Yatra’. The rank and file was enthusiastic then.

But later, the realisation that they were in for a ‘raw deal’ while dealing with the allies, has dampened their electoral spirit. To make the Mumbai contests interesting, the Congress will have to transfer nearly 14 lakh votes to its newest ally in five constituencies, and the Sena will have to reciprocate it in just one. Congress leaders argue that till 2019 the party fought single-handedly in five seats because the undivided NCP did not have much influence in Mumbai. NCP’s win in Mumbai North-East was attributed to the Congress’s share of votes. On the other side, they say, the undivided Sena had the BJP’s significant support in three segments.

To the chagrin of the Congress, SS (UBT) has announced its nominees for four Mumbai seats. It seems that in a three-party MVA, Congress has lost out the aggressive negotiator in SS (UBT). A couple of senior Congress leaders in Delhi have been blamed for giving in to Thackeray, and aiding the BJP’s motto of ‘Congress Mukta Bharat’. Maharashtra Congress leaders want SS (UBT) to cede at least two seats in Mumbai. They have also asked for Bhiwandi and Sangli. Insiders say the Sena is unlikely to give up Mumbai South Central, and it won't part with Sangli either.

The situation emerging later will decide Congress's electoral existence in Mumbai, MMR and beyond. Pre-poll pact with NCP had erased the Congress from several prominent Lok Sabha seats. In MMR and the surrounding area, the Congress had lost its footprint in Raigad, Thane, Kalyan, Palghar, Maval and Shirur. Somehow, this time it has managed to retain Pune by getting a formidable candidate. Not very far from Pune, if Sena persists the Congress will be gone from Sangli too. But it will have gained a presence in Kolhapur. Congress had Baramati when the Pawars were part of it. It doesn't contest Satara and Madha but is a regular contestant in Solapur despite successive losses. In Marathwada and north Maharashtra, the Congress doesn't have much at hand, yet it might lose a segment or two there as well.

Nearly 350 km from Mumbai, Dhule could be in the Congress's bowl if negotiations work fine. Some 300 km from Dhule is Akola, where Congress aspirants are hopeful of the party's participation. But it is unlikely if VBA chief Prakash Ambedkar is given support. Amravati comes next in Vidarbha where Congress has high hopes. Then comes Nagpur, intercepted by the Wardha constituency. Nagpur is with Congress, but Wardha isn't. Yavatmal-Washim is still pending. In all five segments of the first phase of eastern Vidarbha, the Congress will be seen in action, against the BJP in four and against Sena-Shinde in one. 

All said and done, the Congress seems to have taken a beating in the seat-sharing talks from Sena (UBT) and NCP-SP, or maybe it has been trying to be a generous big brother in the I.N.D.I.A parivar. This election of political realignment will see the Congress contesting the lowest-ever number of seats in Maharashtra where it has slumped down to winning just one seat from registering a yet-to-be-beaten record of 43 four decades ago.

No of LS seats in Mumbai

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