Congress in Maharashtra has admitted that it is going to be a tough challenge for it to maintain its 2009 tally of 17 Lok Sabha seats in the upcoming general elections. The party had last time contested 26 out of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
Out of the 17 won by it, five are from Mumbai and party MPs and office-bearers have asked the leadership that Congress interests in the country's financial capital have to be safeguarded at any cost. "There are 70 lakh slum dwellers in Mumbai and the election promise of regularising slums till the year 2000 has to be implemented," Congress leaders from Mumbai told Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan at a meeting yesterday.
The party hopes that the commencement of the monorail and the soon-to-be-functional metro will stand it in good stead with the middle class voters in the metropolis.
Sources said the chief minister was told that the criteria of Rs 60,000 annual income in Mumbai to get benefits of the Food Security Act would not serve the interest of the Congress party.
In the last two days, Chavan, state Congress chief Manikrao Thakare and AICC general secretary in-charge of the state Mohan Prakash held a series of deliberations with party leaders to discuss strategy for the crucial Lok Sabha polls. "There is some sentiment in favour of AAP and Narendra Modi on the ground and we need to counter that," party sources said.
Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi's visit to the state is being planned in the first week of March before the election code of conduct comes into force. "Interactions of Gandhi with hawkers, fishermen, minorities, slum dwellers, women and youth are being planned. This will help us to launch our campaign," sources added.
At yesterday's meeting, discussions pertained to evolving a consensus on elective merit of the aspirants in nine Lok Sabha constituencies where the party was defeated in 2009.
Among the prominent aspirants include state Cabinet minister Sanjay Devtale, who is keen on a candidature from Chandrapur, the sources said, adding that another senior leader Wamanrao Kasawar is also lobbying for a nomination.
Sitting Latur MP Jaywantrao Awale has written to the party leadership that he did not wish to contest the polls. Yavatmal and Aurangabad constituencies are the ones where primaries to select candidates will be held around February 20. Raigad, Hatkanangale, Kolhapur seats are under discussion with the NCP. Congress is looking for a Muslim face to contest from Raigad, if swapping with NCP does not take place. The party has refused to accept Hatkanangale seat where NCP does not have a candidate to take on sitting MP Raju Shetty, who will now be supported by Sena-BJP.
Kolhapur sitting MP Sadashiv Mandlik has said he would contest from the same seat as an independent, if the NCP does not give seat to Congress.
Congress is also looking to compensate the possible loss of Pune seat in Shirdi Lok Sabha constituency. Sitting Pune MP Suresh Kalmadi, who was expelled from the party after the CWG scam, wants the Congress to nominate his daughter which the party is unlikely to accept, sources added.