Nationalist Congress Party

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Losing relevance in urban Maharashtra

Makarand Gadgil and Alka Dhupkar, Why Sharad Pawar's NCP losing relevance in urban Maharashtra, Aug 24, 2017: The Times of India

Flip-flops by bosses, no clear agenda, and leaders switching allegiance to rivals have led to NCP facing existential crisis.

While nobody expected the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to challenge the BJP or the Shiv Sena in the recently held Mira-Bhayandar civic polls, the party, founded by Sharad Pawar in the summer of 1999, failing to win even a single seat raises serious questions about its future, at least in urban Maharashtra.

What the drubbing in the Mira-Bhayandar Municipal Corporation - where it held 27 of the 95 seats - proves beyond doubt is, the NCP can only win elections in areas where its local satraps hold sway. In Mira-Bhayandar, a disgruntled local leader, Gilbert Mendonca, switched over to the Sena just before the polls.

Three months ago, the NCP managed to win just two seats out of 79 in the newly created Panvel Municipal Corporation, even as the party has been ruling the neighbouring Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation for more than two decades now, largely because veteran leader Ganesh Naik's clout remains unchallenged there.

The party's decline in urban Maharashtra after the Congress-NCP combine lost control of the state in 2014 can be seen in these statistics:

Since 2015, there have been 22 municipal elections in the state, and except in Navi Mumbai, Malegaon, and Thane, the NCP's seats have declined substantially.

In the BMC, the party won 13 seats in 2012, but managed to win only nine in the 2017 elections.

In the Pune Municipal Corporation, its share fell from 51 seats in 2012 to 34 in 2017.

In the Nashik Municipal Corporation, the party now has just five seats out of 20 it had won in 2012, and in Pimpri-Chinchwad, it has 36 seats compared to 83 it had won in 2012. In municipal corporation elections held between 2009 and 2013, the party had won 554 seats out of a total 2,543 contested, but post-2015, the party has managed to win just 253 seats out of 2,171 contested.

Now look at the pattern of these reverses: In Pune, an influential party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Kakade, a close associate of Ajit Pawar, ditched the NCP in favour of the BJP. In Pimpri-Chinchwad, the NCP's strongest leader, MLA Laxman Jagtap, had joined the BJP before the 2014 Assembly elections in Maharashtra.

It doesn't help the NCP's cause that its founder has no fixed political ideology. The NCP was carved out of Pawar's rebellion against "foreigner" Sonia Gandhi, but in a matter of months, he became Sonia's staunchest ally. And nobody has forgotten the haste with which the NCP offered support to Devendra Fadnavis's government in the state before Sena eventually came around.

"The Marathas and the minorities in Maharashtra don't trust the NCP because nobody is sure what the party stands for," a political observer said. Pawar's daughter and heir apparent Supriya Sule blamed the recent reverses on "anti-incumbency". Sule, an MP from the Pawars' bastion Baramati, said, "We were in power for 15 years. There is no other factor than antiincumbency, and unlike some others, we don't resort to jhumla."

Regarding drubbings in the municipal corporation polls, she said, "Nobody asked us about our strategy when we were winning one election after another. This just shows you have a lot of expectations from us." Political observers, however, say the NCP leaders need to see the writing on the wall, or the clock, its election symbol. Prof Prakash Pawar, who teaches political science at Kolhapur's Shiva-ji University, said: "The NCP was represented in the urban areas largely by farmers whose lands turned into gold mine due to rapid urbanisation and other interests in the real estate sector. With the rise of the BJP, these local satraps have switched allegiance." Political analyst Prakash Akolkar is of the view that lack of clear policies is hurting the party. "The Gujarat Rajya Sabha elections is a classic example, wherein one of its MLAs voted for Ahmad Patel and another for the BJP candidate," Akolkar said.

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