Congress picks Marathi face to head MRCC but does a balancing act

Written by Sandeep A Ashar | Mumbai | Updated: December 20, 2020 1:30:38 am

Mumbai civic polls, Mumbai 2022 civic polls, Ashok Jagtap, MRCC, maharashtra congress, indian express newsAshok (Bhai) Jagtap. ([email protected])

A faction-ridden Congress on Saturday decided not to project a single face ahead of the crucial 2022 civic polls to lead the party in Mumbai.

While naming sitting party legislator Ashok (Bhai) Jagtap, a Marathi face, as the president of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC) on Saturday, the All India Congress Committee appointed former Mumbai Youth Congress president and ex-legislator Charan Singh Sapra as the working president of the Mumbai unit.

Further Maharashtra’s former Minorities Development Minister Naseem Khan and former Public Health Minister Suresh Shetty were named as the chairpersons of the election campaign committee and manifesto committee, respectively, while Mumbai Congress’s current vice president Dr Amarjit Manhas was named as the head of the coordination committee. Sources confirmed that all of them were interested in running for the Mumbai Congress president’s post, which Jagtap eventually won.

The new organisational model is also being seen as the party’s attempt to rid factionalism within the party in the run-up to the 2022 Mumbai civic polls. It is also an attempt to get the caste and community balance right ahead of the civic polls.

In another bid to get the caste equations right, the party on Saturday also created a new position, appointing former minister Chandrakant Handore as Maharashtra Congress’s Mumbai incharge.

In the 2017 Mumbai civic polls, the party had slumped to its worst ever electoral performance in the city, managing to win just 31 seats out of 227. In fact the party has seen a consistent downslide in fortunes over the last 28 years. In 1992, it had won 112 seats in alliance with the Republican Party of India (Athavale), winning power in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC). Since then the consolidation of the Marathi and non-Marathi Hindu vote in favour of the erstwhile Shiv SenaBJP alliance and infighting within its own camp has seen Congress’s influence and vote bank shrink substantially in the financial capital.

In the last civic poll where Shiv Sena and BJP fought separately, the Congress performance worsened further. Later in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the party had failed to open its account in Mumbai losing all six seats, while winning only four seats.

Jagtap, the new president, began his political career as a trade union leader. After joining the Congress in 2001, he won assembly polls once from the Khetwadi constituency and has since been nominated twice to the legislative council. Earlier this month the All India Congress Committee had obtained feedback for party’s Mumbai legislators, corporators and block presidents on their pick for the Mumbai president’s race. But the exercise had failed to project a clear favourite.

The party had gone without a full-time president in the commercial capital in Mumbai since last July, when former Union minister Milind Deora had stepped down. Former MP Eknath Gaikwad was filling in as the acting president. On Saturday, the AICC appreciated Gaikwad’s role as the stand-in president, but party sources admitted that there were complaints that he hadn’t been very active.

The new team, with Jagtap helming it, has its task cut-out, admitted party sources. The Shiv Sena and the BJP, who are looking to square up against each other, have already swung in poll mode, while the Congress is struggling to keep its house together.

It’s first task will also be to decide whether to go into the upcoming elections solo or in alliance with the Shiv Sena and the NCP. The cadre seems divided over the issue. Anticipating regional pride or Marathi asmita to be a major poll plank, the party has appointed Jadhav as the president, but it’s key task will also be to win back its own North Indian support base that has substantially shifted allegiance to the BJP since 2014.

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