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NCP gaining ground in Maharastra as Muslim voters back the party
By MH Lakdawala

Mumbai: Muslims of Maharashtra had deserted Congress after the 92-93 post Babri Masjid demolition riots. Major reason was the inaction of Congress’ state leadership, particularly Sharad Pawar, in maintaining the law and order and allowing Mumbai to burn. Just to score political points over each other, both Sharad Pawar and the then Congress leadership allowed Muslims to be killed and their properties destroyed.

In subsequent assembly elections Congress lost the power in the state. Muslims in large numbers voted for Shiv-Sena -BJP alliance just to teach Congress and Sharad Pawar a lesson.But it seems Muslims have forgotten their wounds inflicted during the riots and are back in the fold of both Congress and Sharad Pawar who now belongs to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

After sharing power with the Nationalist Congress Party for more than two years, the Congress appears to have realised that the NCP has been gaining strength politically at its expense. While the Nationalist Congress Party under the leadership of its president Sharad Pawar is not only consolidating its position but also expanding it, the Congress continues to lack direction and is ridden with factionalism. 

What has stunned the Congress is that the NCP has made inroads into the Vidarbha region as Muslims have backed NCP, which was, until recently, regarded as a Congress bastion. The recent municipal council elections are testimony to the growth of the NCP. 

In the assembly elections held two years ago, the NCP was able to bag seats, which were essentially from the sugar belt in western Maharashtra. It had virtually no presence in the rest of the state. But in the past two years, it has breached the monopoly of the Congress and the Shiv Sena in Vidarbha and the Konkan. Muslims of Konkan region which had voted for Shiv Sena ,have voted for the NCP.

``What is really upsetting us is that the NCP has captured municipal councils in districts like Chandrapur and Gadchiroli which are tribal areas where we traditionally had an excellent base,'' a senior Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) office-bearer observed. The NCP also exposed the political weakness of several leaders, including chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and BJP vice-president Gopinath Munde, by defeating their candidates on their home turf. In Latur and Beed, the candidates put up by Mr Deshmukh and Mr Munde were trounced by NCP nominees. 

The Congress surged ahead by bagging 35 out of 153 municipal councils followed by the NCP (26), Shiv Sena (23) and the BJP (14). Elections were held for 167 municipal councils on December 2 and results of 153 were declared.

Mr Adik claimed that even though the Shiv Sena and the BJP joined hands to fight the elections, the Congress could defeat the saffron alliance. He made it clear that the Congress would fight the ensuing municipal corporation and zilla parishad elections on its own strength. When asked whether the party would join hands with the NCP in Mumbai to defeat the SS-BJP alliance, he said, ``The Mumbai Regional Congress Committee will take its own decision on the basis of its assessment. We do not want to come in its way. But we will fight other municipal corporations elections on our own strength.'' 

Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) combine is vying for nearly two dozens municipalities. The contests will be sharpest for Mumbai and Thane, which have two of the richest civic bodies in the country. 

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the junior partner in the Congress-led Democratic Front (DF) that rules Maharashtra, is expected to make big gains in the civic polls , say analysts. 

In a few places in Maharashtra, activists of both parties are lobbying for a merger. NCP leader Sharad Pawar was suspended from the Congress for challenging two years ago Sonia Gandhi’s leadership of the party on account of her foreign origin. The NCP has also made some headway on another front, with activists of the Samajwadi Party and some Leftist groups joining it. 

The trend of Muslim voting for Pawar's NCP and Congress started in the last Assembly election when Congress-NCP came to power. In this election the trend of Muslim votes in favor of Congress and NCP is more pronounced.

Amongst the slew of factors responsible for the swing in favor of Congress and NCP is the lack of a suitable alternative. The third front is practically non-existent in the State. Samajwadi Party had made significant inroads in Mumbai and could have provided a sound alternative. But Abu Asim Azmi SP Mumbai president failed to consolidate the party as he failed in raising a second line leadership in the city. Sourrounded by sycophants, Azmi gradually lost the grip over the party, with the result that majority of active and senior party leaders joined NCP including its two sitting MLA's Bashir Patel and Nawab Malik.Thus even in Mumbai unlike last elections Muslims don't have any alternative to Congress -NCP alliance and Sena BJP alliance.

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