Nagpur, (The Hindu): Former Chief Minister and Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president Ashok Chavan said his party is yet to decide on contesting the Assembly elections in alliance with the NCP. He, however, said secular votes will not be split if the Congress and NCP join hands. He spoke to The Hindu on the current political situation in the State, his party’s organisational preparedness and factionalism.
How do you see the current political situation in Maharashtra?
The situation is grave and explosive. The State has never seen so many farmer suicides. The Fadnavis government is not taking corrective action.
They are spending on publicity instead. Even crop purchase and loan waivers have been turned into cumbersome procedures. Practically, day-to-day life of common people has become more difficult, and everyone is feeling let down by this government.
People believed the promises made by the BJP, but they also notice that nothing is happening on ground. The State is falling into a debt trap. All this is having an adverse impact on people, and its impact will be visible in the 2019 elections.
If you look at the political situation, the Shiv Sena, a ruling coalition partner, is not bothered by people’s problems. They want power, but don’t want to take responsibility for the government’s wrong decisions. It’s a political move which people have understood, which is why the Sena’s base is eroding now.
Despite these issues, the Congress doesn’t seem to be as aggressive or visible as the Sena.
I won’t say that. Unfortunately, the media is facing tremendous pressure from the government to not report [Opposition events]. Look at some TV channels that were raided for neutral reporting. Editors and reporters are being transferred. Because of this pressure, Opposition activities are getting minimal publicity.
It seems the Congress is unable to accept an Opposition role.
It’s not true. As the PCC chief, I’ve been travelling all over the State. I can see our workers coming out on the streets to raise people’s issues. Of course, more needs to be done, and will be done.
How well is the Congress prepared for Assembly polls?
Besides the Nanded civic polls, we’ve also won in Bhiwandi, Parbhani and Malegoan. We have performed very well in some municipal elections, and in the Zilla Parishad polls as well. Leaders have to make efforts. I am also a leader from my district, so I should perform there. It’s a team effort. In places, we do have problems, I don’t deny that.
You don’t seem to be promoting young and new leadership.
We did give opportunities to a lot of new faces in the municipal and ZP elections. Many new names are coming up. You’ll see new faces in the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections. It’s the need of the hour, and we’re doing that, but it’s a continuous process. New faces must have electoral merit. A leader who will carry the rest with him is needed in every district, or the system will be weakened. My approach is to give strength to acceptable district leaders.
Open factionalism has been noted in Nagpur, Chandrapur and Mumbai.
See, there are such issues and I don’t deny that. We’re taking care of it and want to keep our house together. We’re trying our best to sort out differences. You can’t have one faction becoming dominant, and others leaving the party. I don’t belong to any faction, nor do I support one. I give importance to anyone who works for the party. There’s a problem in Nagpur, but those working for the party will be given importance.
How are you preparating for the Assembly polls, which could be early?
It [early polls] will depend on the results of the Gujarat Assembly election. We’ll make changes in the organisational structure soon. People have been put in charge of districts. The party’s organisational election was held recently. The process [of appointing new office-bearers] will be completed in the next few months.
Do you still see the NCP as your natural ally?
There’s no question of a natural ally. Nothing is permanent. It should be a win-win situation for both. We’re yet to decide on a future course of action, but our aim is to make sure the secular votes are not divided, because that helps the BJP. In some districts, they [NCP] have strength, in some we’re powerful. But nothing will be done at the cost of our party.
The sudden spurt in NCP activities in Vidarbha seems an attempt to poach Congress voters.
The BJP is making many tactical moves to weaken the Congress. At this moment, the Congress definitely has an edge over the NCP in Vidarbha.
Vidarbha has become a BJP citadel.
Vidarbha had been our stronghold, and we will definitely try to strengthen our base there. We’ll have to put in more effort. I’m travelling to many districts. Local chemistry has to be understood. The important thing is how you coordinate with various leaders in the district. It has to be done carefully, which we are doing.
What about the booth-level structure? The BJP is ready with its booth-level organisation in 75% of the Assembly segments.
We’ve appointed block-level presidents elected by local people. If anything remains, it will be done after Rahul Gandhi takes over as party president. We’re yet to decide if we want an alliance with the NCP or not, but by and large, the general feeling is that if we come together, we’ll perform better. Not only the NCP, there are like-minded parties like the CPM, the Peasants and Workers Party and others. There can be a broader understanding [with other parties], but it has to be done properly.
The Congress has also started appointing people at the booth level. We have asked our District Congress Committee presidents to identify people. The situation has changed in the last few years, so we’re trying to identify those working at the grassroots. We’ll conclude the process in the next month, hopefully. We’re not lagging behind the BJP in organisational preparedness.
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