Absence of an effective election strategy was the key reason for the Congress’ poor showing in the just held bypoll to the Palghar Lok Sabha seat in Maharashtra, party leaders said.
They said the party is concerned over its humiliating defeat in the tribal-dominated constituency, where the bypoll result was announced on Thursday, and will certainly take corrective steps.
Damodar Shingda, the Congress candidate, polled only 47,714 votes in the May 28 bypoll, which was won by the BJP, and in the process lost his deposit.
A candidate has to get a minimum 6 per cent of the votes cast to save deposit.
The total number of votes polled in Palghar, an ST- reserved constituency located adjoining Mumbai, was 8,69,985. Six per cent of it comes to 52,199.
BJP’s Rajendra Gavit won the by-election, defeating his nearest rival Shrinivas Wanaga of the Shiv Sena by 29,572 votes.
Gavit garnered 2,72,782 votes, while Wanaga polled 2,43,210.
Gavit, a former Congress leader and minister, joined the BJP a few days ahead of the bypoll, necessitated by the death of sitting BJP MP Chintaman Wanaga. His son Shrinivas Wanaga was fielded by the Shiv Sena.
“He switched to the BJP on the eve of filing of nominations for the bypoll and took along with him Congress activists as well. The party virtually split in Palghar,” said Congress sources.
Rajan Bhosale, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) general secretary, said the party was in talks with the Bahujan Vikas Agadhi (BVA), a local outfit, for support of its nominee, but things did not work out.
The BVA had been a Congress ally and the Palghar seat has always been left to the local outfit as part of seat- sharing arrangement, the sources said.
The Congress base in the constituency had got eroded in the last few years, they admitted.
“Whatever little was left was taken away by Gavit when he joined the BJP,” the sources said.
“The party was in talks with Rajendra Gavit to contest from the constituency. But he put the condition that the party, and not him, will bear the entire campaign expense. This meant he was also in talks with the BJP (for a ticket),” said Bhosale.
He said the BVA did not make up its mind on supporting the Congress nominee till the last minute. The local outfit entered the fray when Gavit filed nomination as the BJP candidate.
“We failed to strategise well and devise an effective election management plan. The party is very concerned and will take corrective steps. The fact is the Congress is almost non- existent in the Konkan belt,” Bhosale admitted.
However, Congress Rajya Sabha MP Hussain Dalwai said the state unit leaders, led by MPCC chief Ashok Chavan, campaigned extensively for the bypoll.
Bhosale said the NCP victory in the Bhandara-Gondiya Lok Sabha seat, which also saw bypoll on May 28, was in fact a Congress win.
The Congress and the NCP had reached an understanding for the seat in Vidarbha under which the former gave up its claim over the constituency, which was won by the BJP in 2014.
“The NCP is a weak force in Vidarbha. Nana Patole had been in the Congress earlier and campaigned extensively for the NCP nominee. We gave up our claim on the seat keeping in mind the 2019 elections,” Bhosale said.
The bypoll was necessitated due to the resignation of sitting BJP MP Nana Patole.
In Bhandara-Gondiya, NCP’s Madhukar Kukade defeated Hemant Patle of the BJP by 48,097 votes.
A former Congress legislator, Patole joined the BJP in the run up to the 2014 elections and defeated NCP heavyweight Praful Patel. Patole quit the BJP last year and came back to the Congress fold.