Mumbai: The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) that was trounced in the 2014 Lok Sabha and assembly elections, as well as the local polls that followed, is attempting a comeback in Maharashtra, riding on rural discontent that hurt the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in neighbouring Gujarat.

Beginning April 2017, the NCP has frequently hit the streets across the state including in Vidarbha and Marathwada, two regions which have seen the most agrarian crisis, and where the NCP has lost territory to the BJP.

On Tuesday, the NCP launched the Marathwada leg of its ‘Halla Bol’ agitation against the BJP-Shiv Sena government from Tuljapur. The campaign will conclude with a public protest meeting at Aurangabad on 3 February where NCP chief Sharad Pawar will speak.

In December last year, the NCP had deployed all its prominent state leaders and former ministers for the Vidarbha leg of this campaign, just ahead of the winter session of the Maharashtra legislature in Nagpur.

On 12 December, Pawar was at the forefront of a joint NCP-Congress protest over farm issues in Nagpur. A senior NCP leader and former minister, who attended this protest said the party was reviving its organization to keep it “battle-ready" for elections.

“After Gujarat elections, it has become quite clear that the BJP is facing the heat over farm discontent and disruptive measures like demonetization and GST (goods and services tax). If the BJP could suffer reverses in rural parts of Gujarat, a state it has been ruling since 1995, its base in Maharashtra could be easily challenged. As it is, the BJP does not have much of an agrarian base in Maharashtra," said this NCP leader, who did not wish to be named. He added the NCP was also keen to distinguish itself from the Congress, especially on farm issues.

“In the agrarian political economy of Maharashtra, we have suffered more reverses than the Congress in the last four years. Even when we were running the alliance government in Maharashtra, we fought with the Congress at the local levels for control over the levers of political economy like co-operative banks and agriculture produce marketing committees. We are working with the Congress on issues and strategies but we have to strengthen our organization first," he said.

In April last year, the NCP joined Congress and other opposition parties to launch a state-wide “Sangharsha Yatra" (struggle march) to demand a blanket waiver of farm loans. Similar camaraderie was on display in December when it shared the stage with the Congress in Nagpur after its protest march.

But the “Halla Bol" campaign in Vidarbha and Marathwada has been a solo NCP initiative. The party has fielded all its senior satraps—right from Baramati MP and Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule, former deputy chief minister and Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar, and its leader of opposition in the legislative council Dhananjay Munde among others—to lead this campaign.

An NCP functionary, who lost badly in the 2014 assembly election, said the party was alarmed by a “massive shift" its workers and office-bearers towards the BJP in Marathwada and even western Maharashtra, an NCP stronghold. “This began in 2014 and continues even now. Some senior leaders and former legislators joined the BJP to negotiate their protection from investigation into scams. This demoralized local office-bearers and workers across the state who followed the suit. The BJP’s victory in all local polls, especially the municipal councils, is largely because much of our organization and the local ecosystem which earlier provided us with resources in return of patronage by the government had shifted their loyalties to the BJP," he said, adding the party needed to regain this support before the next election.

“If not in power, we at least have to revive the party so that we can negotiate with the Congress from a position of strength," the NCP leader said.

In the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, the Congress has 42 legislators and the NCP 41. Of 48 Lok Sabha MPs from Maharashtra, the NCP has 4 and the Congress 2.

Close