Mumbai: Nearly 20 days after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) launched its campaign for the Maharashtra assembly elections with ‘Mahajanadesh Yatra’, the beleaguered state Congress is now preparing to counter the ruling party with its own rally — titled ‘Pol Khol Yatra’.
Interestingly, at the helm of this yatra is a man, who until two years ago, was a BJP parliamentarian. Moreover, there is silent discord among senior state Congress leaders for not being taken into confidence about the yatra.
Nana Patole, a Congress rebel-turned BJP rebel to now again a Congress functionary, will steer the party’s ‘Pol Khol Yatra’ from 26 August to counter Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ ‘Mahajanadesh Yatra’, in which the CM has been highlighting the works done by his government in the last five years — comparing them with what Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) regimes have done in 15 years before that.
The Congress’ yatra will follow the same route as that of the BJP rally — it will start from Mojari in Amravati district. Patole and other senior leaders will lead the rally and debunk Fadnavis’ claims of development.
“The first phase (of the rally) will start from 26 August and will end at Yavatmal on 29 August. We will start the second phase from 3 September and go on till about 11th. Gradually, we will cover the entire state. We will talk about the government’s failure in sectors like employment, education, rising debt and so on,” Patole told ThePrint.
Political analyst Prakash Bal said, “Unlike Fadnavis’ ‘Mahajanadesh Yatra’, this does not seem like a well-coordinated effort, but an isolated one by a single leader. It is doubtful whether the yatra will draw any political capital.”
Discontent among senior Congress leaders
The yatra that will launch the Congress’ campaign for the state elections, due later this year, is dented by the same issues that have plagued the Maharashtra Congress unit since long — infighting and a lack of coordination between senior leaders.
“Nobody has been taken into confidence for this ‘Pol Khol Yatra’. Patole went ahead and planned the whole thing without the suggestions and involvement of senior leaders like Balasaheb Thorat or Prithviraj Chavan,” a senior party leader, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint.
“As Maharashtra Congress president, it is Thorat who should lead any campaign. But, ultimately, all of us will attend the yatra because we have to see it and treat it as a programme of the party,” he added.
Vijay Wadettiwar, Congress’ Leader of Opposition in the Maharashtra legislative assembly, said, “The party leadership has given Patole the responsibility of being campaign committee chief and accordingly he has planned this yatra. I would not like to comment any more on this.”
Congress leaders also say the yatra is the result of an ego tussle that Patole has with Fadnavis. When Fadnavis launched his ‘Mahajanadesh Yatra’ on 1 August, he challenged the opposition for a debate on the performance of his government and the previous Congress-NCP regimes. Patole publicly said he was ready to have a debate with Fadnavis as the in-charge of Congress’ campaign committee.
“The CM thought no one will challenge him, but when I responded, he fell silent. So the yatra is the party’s response to his tall claims,” Patole told ThePrint.
He also rubbished reports of discord among senior Congress leaders. “The party is like a big family. When you have many children, not everyone’s nature will be exactly the same, but ultimately there is love and unity. All leaders will be present at the ‘Pol Khol Yatra’ and we will get a good response,” Patole said.
Patole’s past record may be a disadvantage
A senior Congress leader said, “The fact that Patole was a Congress rebel once may be a disadvantage when he becomes the face of the Congress’ yatra now.”
Patole has been no stranger to rebellion. The 56-year-old politician started as a Congressman and was a Bhandara zilla parishad member. He, however, left the Congress and contested his first assembly election as an Independent in 1995, but lost.
He later returned to the Congress. In 1999, Patole, who had by then positioned himself as an Other Backward Classes leader, was elected as a legislator on a Congress ticket from Lakhandur seat in Bhandara. He won from the seat in the 2004 election as well.
The firebrand leader started brewing trouble for the Congress-NCP regime in Maharashtra in 2008 when he lashed out at his own party’s government over farmers’ suicides in Vidarbha and its neglect in developing the region.
The differences between Patole and the Congress resulted in him quitting the party again. He contested the 2009 Lok Sabha election as an Independent against NCP’s Praful Patel from Bhandara-Gondia constituency, but lost by over two lakh votes. The same year he switched over to the BJP and contested the 2009 assembly election on a BJP ticket from Sakoli constituency and won.
In 2014, Patole, still with the BJP, won Bhandara-Gondia parliamentary seat, defeating Patel. In December 2017, he walked out of the BJP, saying the party neglected farmers and even publicly criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s style of leadership.
He subsequently returned to the Congress and unsuccessfully contested the 2019 Lok Sabha election against BJP’s Nitin Gadkari from Nagpur, amid much discontent among Vidarbha Congress leaders regarding the party’s decision to field him from the seat.