With an unorganised Congress by its side, and pitted against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s partner Shiv Sena in a majority of seats, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is looking at improving its 2014 Lok Sabha tally of five to double digits in the 2019 general elections.
Founded by Sharad Pawar in 1999 after he quit the Congress, the party even in its heyday could not manage to cross the double-digit mark in Lok Sabha elections. Instead, allegations of corruption against many of its leaders have followed the NCP, seen in Maharashtra as a ‘Maratha’ party.
This time, the party is hoping it will be different. As Maharashtra gets ready for the elections in April, the NCP is for one, better organised and battle-ready than the Congress.
Its internal assessment and survey reports predict victory in at least 10 to 12 Lok Sabha seats, a leader said. Sources also indicated that winning more Lok Sabha seats than the Congress would mean the party will be in a superior position to discuss seat-sharing for the Assembly elections, scheduled four months after the general elections.
“We are going to face these elections with a clear agenda of saving the Constitution and its principles. We stand with secular, non-divisive forces and want to ensure the defeat of communal politics, which goes against the very fabric of our Constitution,” NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik said.
The NCP, though accused of nepotism, is more concerned about winning more seats this time, a leader clarified. “Our priority in 2019 is to win as many seats as possible,” a leader said. The party is pitted against the Sena in a majority of seats and with a Sena-BJP alliance in place, the NCP has emerged as a real ‘Opposition’ party. “All anti-BJP votes will now come to us. Had there been no alliance between the Sena and BJP, we would have struggled due to a split in anti-BJP votes,” the leader said.
The going has not been without its challenges. In the first week after the announcement of elections, Mr. Pawar decided to step back from the Madha seat to make way for his grandnephew Parth Pawar. The NCP’s tough stand on the Ahmednagar seat led to Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil’s son Sujay joining the BJP.
Without further ado, the party’s leaders have hit the campaign trail. A majority of its candidates have been announced, except in the three seats of Madha, Ahmednagar and Bhandara-Gondiya. Mr. Pawar’s statement that the BJP will emerge as the single largest party after the elections is being seen as adequate caution, besides creating a mystery about his actions in the post-poll scenario.