After an impressive performance in the Gujarat and Karnataka Assembly polls, Congress is now keen to revive its political fortunes in Maharashtra. Maharashtra was considered traditionally as a Congress bastion but the party had to suffer a massive setback in the state due to incumbency factor. After taking over the rein of Congress from his mother Sonia Gandhi, Rahul Gandhi has his work cut out to rebuild the party in Maharashtra. The Project Shakti initiative was the first step taken by Rahul to interact with grassroot level workers in the state. Rahul also had a meeting with NCP president Sharad Pawar raising speculations of the revival of an alliance between the two parties. Maharashtra is a crucial state for Congress as the state elects second largest contingent of Lok Sabha members after Uttar Pradesh.
Rajya Sabha MP Vandana Chavan said, “Obviously regional parties are coming together to challenge BJP. If an alliance happens in Maharashtra then Congress will play a role of the big brother. I think everybody has to play an important role in the alliance. No ego problem exists between Congress and NCP and they should have a proper seat sharing.”
The ground-level workers have often complained about senior leaders remaining inaccessible to them. As a result of this, their morale goes down and they don’t take initiative to campaign for the party. The Gandhi scion addressed 15,000 booth-level workers as a party of Project Shakti. The campaign was touted a major success as 1,000 autorickshaw drivers had welcomed him. This initiative will give a major boost to the party ahead of the next year’s Lok Sabha and assembly polls. However, the party also has to iron out several glitches ahead of its preparation for the election.
Congress in-charge for Himachal Pradesh Rajni Patil said, “Undoubtedly, Rahul Gandhi’s visit to Mumbai will have an impact on the upcoming elections as he is doing good campaigning and addressing Congress workers. Recently, Congress won the assembly seat in Jaynagar.”
“Congress will be in the leading position in Maharashtra to fight against BJP. Definitely, everyone wants Congress and NCP to come together as both the parties share the same ideology. Senior leaders of the party are having better interaction with booth-level workers,” she added.
Congress will have to sort out its differences with NCP as both the parties had decided to contest the 2014 Maharashtra Lok Sabha and assembly polls solo which cost them dearly. The party is yet to completely recover from the debacle it faced in the assembly polls. It will be difficult for Congress to challenge BJP if they don’t form an alliance. Both the parties will have to take steps to address infighting prevalent within the outfit. Congress will have to strengthen its organisational structure in the state.
BJP spokesperson Shirish Boralkar said, “I don’t think Rahul Gandhi’s visit will have an impact in the political scenario of Maharashtra. If Rahul holds more rallies it will be beneficial for BJP. Everyone knows how he speaks. Rahul Gandhi had come to Maharashtra to attend the court case. Press Conference and speeches are additional factors. In Maharashtra, there is no significant grand alliance to challenge BJP and assembly election is a year away.”
Another challenge which lies ahead of the party is to stop the BJP juggernaut which is in power in 21 states. While BJP might have won the assembly polls, it has been faring poorly in by-polls which have boosted the confidence of the opposition parties. Congress will have to hold rallies across the state to highlight the failures of the BJP government like flawed farm loan waiver, demonetisation, GST (Goods and Services Tax) and farmer suicides.
Shiv Sena MP Gajanan Kirtikar said, “Earlier, Congress was limited to rank and file but now they have changed their strategy and are connecting with party workers and masses. We cannot gauge the impact of Rahul’s visit on Maharashtra politics through his two-day programme.”
Rahul Gandhi is already considering himself as a contender for the prime minister’s post if Congress or a coalition led by the party wins next year’s Lok Sabha polls. He also has matured as a political leader. While campaigning for Karnataka assembly polls, Prime Minister Modi had resorted to personal attacks against Congress leaders but Rahul didn’t retaliate.