Once widely accepted by the urban and rural voters alike, the grand old party Congress is rapidly losing ground in Maharashtra.
If the outcome of the recently conducted Municipal Council and Nagar Panchayat elections is anything to go by, the Congress, that once ruled the state at all levels, has slipped to the third spot with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in first and Shiv Sena in second place.
The party's loss in the civic polls has brought several other serious problems with it. The defeat has exposed the fault lines in the Congress that has been ruling Maharashtra for most of the time since the formation of the state.
Similarly, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which Sharad Pawar formed after parting ways with the Congress over the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin when she desired to become prime minister, too has started feeling the tremors as the unrest among its leaders has come to the fore, and how!
A former Member of Parliament allegedly opened fire at party spokesperson and his supporters during a cadre meeting at Chembur two days back.
Many Congress stalwarts such as Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil faced humiliating defeat on their home turf. Though a few leaders like Narayan Rane and Balasaheb Thorat managed to retain their hold, majority of the party leaders have lost miserably.
The defeat has given voice to many unhappy souls in the party. Despite victory in his home turf, Rane has fired salvo at party leadership, while Thorat and Patil have questioned each other's loyalty to party.
The humiliating defeat of leaders who were uncrowned kings of their respective districts has exposed the fault lines in the Congress. The unrest is brewing across the party leadership and cadre, which is now a serious cause of concern.
"My candidates won just because of our hard work in the constituency. Party leadership had no role in the victory in my district. The leadership failed to act on time and campaign with all its might, due to which we could not retain number one position in the state," said Rane.
But, he is not the only one who was vocal against party leadership. His colleague and former revenue minister of Mahasrashtra Balasaheb Thorat, too has locked horned with Leader of Opposition in state Assembly and senior party leader Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil.
Both Thorat and Vikhe Patil hail from Ahmednagar district. While Thorat retained his strong hold in Sangamner taluka, Vikhe Patil bit the dust in his Shirdi taluka of the district.
After the results were announced and picture was clear, like Rane, Thorat also launched a fiery attack on Vikhe Patil for his poor performance leading to massive loss to the party.
"Vikhe Patil is known to have good relationships with BJP leaders. And because of that he did not put up fight and gave his constituency to the BJP on a platter. It is high time that Vikhe Patil decided about his loyalties," Thorat said.
But he is not the only one who is questioning Vikhe Patil's loyalty. A senior Congress leader, who did not wish to be named, echoed similar feelings. The leader added, "We thought that Ashok Chavan, after being appointed as state unit chief one-and-half years ago would salvage the party with his aggressive image. But he suddenly went docile after getting embroiled in Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam."
However, the party spokesperson Sachin Savant said, "There is no unrest in the party. It is because of the democracy in the party that all the leaders are able to speak their mind."
Blow by blow
Like the Congress, NCP too has suffered a major blow in the Municipal Council and Nagar Panchayat elections. Known to have strong mass base among Maratha community in Maharashtra, NCP has suffered major losses as the very same community has abandoned it.
After the defeat, the NCP leaders are now debating the importance of an alliance with the Congress to win elections. Both the parties were in alliance in he state till the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. However, they parted ways and have independently contested every election since. Now, after the defeat, NCP leaders are divided on whether to go back to the alliance or not.
NCP lost massively to BJP in its strong hold in Western Maharashtra. The NCP leadership has always been ambiguous when it came to take a firm stand against BJP.
"When Shiv Sena and BJP were in conflict over forming government in Maharashtra in 2014, we voluntarily extended support to the BJP, and soon after formation of government, again got into a criticising mode. The frequent change of stand has left the party cadre in a confused state. They are not sure how to react to any issue due to the ever changing stand of the party leadership," said a senior NCP leader.
Party president Sharad Pawar, time and again has indicated that the cadre should pull up its socks and prepare for midterm polls. But within a matter of few hours, he forgets this.
"This uncertainty is proving to be fatal for the moral of party cadre. This is being discussed among the leaders in hushed tones," the senior leader said. Pawar's proximity with Prime Minister Narendra Modi is also a serious cause of concern for party leaders and cadre. Due to this, the Congress is also hesitant to come forward and renew their alliance.
"In the end, we are losing the mass base in Maharashtra, which is not a good sign at all. It is high time that party leadership finally decided whether it wants to go with the Congress or get dragged with the BJP. Then the cadre and other leaders would be free to take their decisions," the leader said.
Edited by Jhinuk Sen