Mumbai: Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi is arriving in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region on Friday to engage with farmers and launch the party’s campaign for next month’s election to the Nanded municipal corporation.
Nanded is one of the two Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra which the Congress party won in the 2014 general elections, the other being Hingoli. Maharashtra Congress president Ashok Chavan represents Nanded, which is also his hometown. In a statement, Chavan said Gandhi will address a farmers’ rally at Parbhani in Marathwada on Friday afternoon. Earlier in the day, Gandhi will meet Congress workers in Nanded.
Congress functionaries said the party was looking to revive its prospects in Marathwada ahead of the next general elections. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and Maharashtra assembly polls later in the year, the Congress had fared badly in Marathwada, except in Nanded and Hingoli.
“Marathwada, before 2014, was a Congress stronghold for a long time. It has a social and economic profile that supplemented the Congress ideology and politics. But in the last three years, BJP has made significant inroads in Marathwada," a senior Congress leader and legislator from the region said, requesting anonymity. He said the party had failed to fully exploit the 2015-16 drought in Marathwada and the failure was evident in BJP’s victory in the municipal polls including in Latur, which was for long a Congress bastion. Marathwada has a total of eight Lok Sabha seats.
“The BJP won despite drought and demonetization except in Nanded and Parbhani districts. Over the last three to four years, a large number of workers from the Congress and even NCP (Nationalist Congress Party) have crossed over to BJP. The party organization has been challenged by these mass desertions and successive electoral reverses," said the Congress legislator.
The Congress party is looking to exploit Rahul Gandhi’s visit to step up its attack on the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra over the farm crisis and implementation of a farm loan waiver. Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said BJP government had put in several riders in the loan waiver that defeated the objective of providing relief to farmers. “The riders are in effect denying the benefit to several farmers who need it," Sawant said.
Marathwada and Vidarbha, the two regions that are drought-prone and where a farm crisis is most severe, were Congress strongholds that have largely favoured BJP in the last three years. “The farm crisis, which is mainly the result of the (Narendra) Modi government’s focus on consumers and inflation, has created a fertile ground for the revival of Congress in Marathwada and Vidarbha. All we need is good strategies and constant engagement with farmers over the next two years," said the Congress legislator cited above.