Congress ‘balances’ caste, regional equation with new picks in Maharashtra

Vijay Wadettiwar, a former minister, was appointed the party s group leader in the Legislative Assembly. (Photo: Facebook @VijayWadettiwarOfficial)

In a bid to balance the caste and regional imbalance ahead of the Assembly polls in Maharashtra, the Congress on Friday projected two senior MLAs as the party s face in the state legislature.

While former minister Vijay (Balasaheb) Thorat was named as the leader of the Congress legislative party, Vijay Wadettiwar, another former minister, was appointed the party s group leader in the Legislative Assembly. In the past, the party has nominated one person for both the roles.

Thorat, who hails from the Maratha community, represents the Sangamner Assembly constituency in North Maharashtra, while Wadettiwar, an OBC leader, hails from the Chimur Assembly seat in Vidarbha.

Explained

A little too late

The Congress in Maharashtra has continued to grapple with infighting and internal disagreements, which has led to the delay in the appointment of the party s new leader in the state legislature. While the party has tried to set the caste and regional balance right while projecting the new faces, insiders say that the appointments have come a little too late in the day. The monsoon session of the legislature - the last one before the state polls - is just three days away. The new managers of the legislative wing will have to get their act going from the get go. They will also have the task of ensuring smooth floor coordination with the NCP, Congress alliance partner.

The party also elevated Maharashtra s former minorities development minister Arif (Naseem) Khan as the Congress s deputy leader in the Assembly. Khan represents Chanpali segment in Mumbai.

Assembly elections in Maharashtra are scheduled for October this year. The rejig in the party s legislative arm comes just three days before the start of the monsoon session of the state legislature.

Following the resignation of the Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil during the campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress was left without a legislative party head. Vikhe-Patil was the legislative party leader as well as the group leader in the legislature.

Thorat, who is also a member of Congress s working committee, is Vikhe-Patil s sworn political rival and hail from the same district.

With Vikhe-Patil set to join the BJP and tipped to be inducted as a senior minister in the Devendra Fadnavis-led government, the Congress has projected Thorat as its legislative party leader.

Last month, the All India Congress Committee s (Maharashtra) in-charge Mallikarjun Kharge had interacted with the party s legislators over nominations for the post. A majority of the legislators had backed Thorat, even as some had pushed Wadettiwar s candidature. The latter enjoys a reputation of being a firebrand leader.

Balancing the caste and regional arithmetic was also the main theme for nominations of the party s whips. Interestingly, Jaykumar Gore, party s MLA from Mann in Solapur district, who is reportedly in touch with the BJP, was named as one of the Congress whips. Insiders said that the move was a part of Congress s reach out to the disgruntled MLA.

In the run up to the state polls, the Congress, which could win just one seat from the state in the Lok Sabha elections, is desperately trying to keep its flock together.