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Ready to fight BMC polls solo but open to tie-up if party says — new Mumbai Congress chief

Mumbai Congress chief Ashok Jagtap, who was appointed last month, says party's target is BJP whether Congress fights independently or in alliance with Shiv Sena in Mumbai civic polls.

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Mumbai: Two weeks after newly-appointed Mumbai Congress president Ashok Jagtap said he is firm on the Congress contesting the 2022 Mumbai civic body elections solo, the leader has now softened his stance, saying he is open to allying with the Shiv Sena if the high command decides so.

Speaking to ThePrint, Jagtap, who took over as the Mumbai Congress chief last month, said while he wishes the party to contest all 227 councillor wards in Mumbai solo, the party’s high command is yet to take a decision. 

He also added that the party’s main target will be the BJP even if it contests independently against the Shiv Sena. 

Jagtap, a first-generation Congress leader, said, “Many people ask me this question of whether the Congress can ally with Shiv Sena for the BMC elections, but I have to first take care of my people in all the 227 wards. My party workers have been toiling at the ground level. There is a lot of josh (enthusiasm) among the karyakartas. What will happen to them otherwise?”

He, however, added, “But, if my high command thinks something different, I can’t simply deny that. I have to follow. The secretary (AICC secretary in-charge of Maharashtra) has not given the nod to contesting all 227 (wards) yet, but he said that I am willing to look at your reports. So, I have to make him understand, convince him. But, we can fight all the 227 seats with full force.”

While Mumbai Congress leaders, including Jagtap, have been making statements of wanting to contest the 2022 polls to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) solo, the Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) are keen to contest the polls under the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) banner. 

The MVA, comprising the Shiv Sena, NCP and the Congress, was formed to keep the BJP away from power in the state. 

Also read: After year in opposition, this is how ‘unbeatable’ BJP is planning to regroup in Maharashtra

‘Main target BJP whether we ally with Shiv Sena or not’

Jagtap, an MLC, said the Congress’ main target in Mumbai will be the BJP as the party “cannot afford the BMC going into the BJP’s hands”.

“… else why will we have the MVA? It is just to keep BJP away from power. It is as simple as that. Our target will be BJP only. It is quite obvious,” said Jagtap, also the vice-president of the Congress’ Maharashtra unit. 

“If I can convince my high command that we will be fighting all 227 seats, then every party is my rival. If the high command takes a different decision, then the parameters will change. But having said so, the target will be BJP in any case,” he added. 

Maharashtrian, trade union background could come handy’

Mumbai has about 28-30 per cent Marathi voters, which Jagtap hopes to appeal to with his Maharashtrian background and a history of being a thoroughbred Congress worker since his college days. Mumbai’s Marathi voters have a significant number of labourers, and Jagtap hopes his trade union background will come in handy here. 

“I have spent 34 years of my life working with trade unions not just in the state, but also across the country. Today I have 6-6.5 lakh workers following me. There are PSU labourers, state govt employees. These labourers are voters and they know Bhai Jagtap. I am hoping that it will help me,” said Jagtap, who is the general secretary of Bharatiya Karmachari Kamgar Mahasangh, a conglomerate of labour unions. 

Similarly, the North Indian segment, which comprises a large number of migrant labourers and accounts for 15-16 per cent of Mumbai’s voting population according to Jagtap, may also rally behind the Congress even more strongly due to Jagtap’s background, he said. 

“After that, there are 10-12 per cent Gujaratis. Traditionally, this was a Congress vote bank earlier. But of late, this vote bank is rallying behind the BJP, which is a challenge for us and we will have to work on it,” the Mumbai Congress president said. 

Jagtap plans to spend the next 100 days on a padayatra passing through all the 36 assembly segments in Mumbai, hoping to touch all 227 councillor wards of Mumbai. 

Also read: Sena-Congress ‘friendship’ goes back 50 yrs — a story of helping each other grow in Mumbai

Tackling party factionalism

Jagtap has taken over as the Mumbai Congress president at a time when the party’s city unit has been constantly battling factionalism and infighting since the past few years, with warring leaders often bringing their differences out in public. 

Political experts as well as party insiders have often pointed at this infighting as the main reason for the Congress steadily losing hold over Mumbai. 

In the 2017 civic polls, the Congress slumped to its worst performance in Mumbai, the city in which the party was born, with 31 seats — down from 52 in 2012. 

While the then Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam offered to step down taking responsibility for the defeat, in a series of tweets he blamed the “immense negativity spread by certain party leaders to harm the campaign”.

Jagtap, however, makes light of the factionalism, saying it exists in every party and he plans to tackle it by taking all former presidents in confidence. 

“It has been the endeavour of any Congress karyakarta that when someone becomes the chief, everybody has to fall in line, which is happening. There are some rumblings here and there. But, there is a democracy and in our party there is freedom of speech,” Jagtap said. 

The Mumbai Congress president said that he visited the residences of Eknath Gaikwad, who was the working president until Jagtap’s appointment, as well as former party presidents Milind Deora and Sanjay Nirupam, who have often gotten embroiled in Twitter wars against each other. Jagtap is considered to be close to Deora. 

“Normally, people say I am the president now, why should I go to meet people… They (former party chiefs) also responded very positively. They told me a few things that were in their minds. I said once you have been given the baton you have to run, and my running could be a bit fast because I just have a year before the Mumbai civic body polls,” Jagtap said. 

“I don’t want a situation where the president is saying something and the leaders are saying something else. So, I made an effort from my side. Thankfully, there have been no misunderstandings until now,” he added. 

Also read: This is why Shiv Sena has been needling Congress and cosying up to Sharad Pawar’s NCP


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