After BSP-SP snub, Congress in dire need of favourable seat-sharing formula with NCP in Maharashtra

The Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have nearly sealed the deal on a seat-sharing formula in Maharashtra for the Lok Sabha election. NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Congress president Rahul Gandhi held an hour-long meeting at the former's home in Delhi on Wednesday, where they ironed out how the parties will contest the polls in Maharashtra. NCP leader Praful Patel said that a "formal announcement is expected in the next eight to 10 days".

While the two parties have come to a decision on 44 of the 48 parliamentary seats in Maharashtra, four seats remain contentious — Raver, Ahmednagar, Aurangabad and Nandurbar. The Congress has reportedly demanded Raver and Ahmednagar constituencies from the NCP, while the NCP wants Nandurbar and Aurangabad.

However, Patel, who was present at the meeting at Pawar's house, said that they only had "differences, and not a dispute" over these four seats. Adding that "it will be sorted out amicably", Patel explained that the reason behind the Congress and NCP coming to a definitive decision on seats was lack of "clarity on the aspirants joining us from other parties".

File image of Rahul Gandhi. AP

File image of Rahul Gandhi. AP

Both parties are expecting a few sitting MPs from the Shiv Sena and BJP to join them.

For the Congress and NCP, especially the grand old party, Maharashtra is crucial for the Lok Sabha elections as the state has the highest number of parliamentary seats, 48, second only to Uttar Pradesh, which has 80. Winning a significant number of seats in the state would improve the chances of either the UPA or NDA of forming the government at the Centre.

Securing a favourable seat-sharing formula with the NCP is crucial as the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party snubbed the Congress in Uttar Pradesh, where the three were expected to take on the BJP together. Even though the SP-BSP alliance said they will not contest from Congress bastions Amethi and Raebareli, almost like a consolation prize for leaving the party out of the alliance, it does not bode too well for the Congress to have the votes in Uttar Pradesh now getting split three ways.

This situation would suggest that the NCP could use the BSP-SP pressure on the Congress to its advantage, but if the latest reports are anything to go by, the two have decided to award ousting the BJP-Sena combine greater priority than petty politics.

The two parties had contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections together — the Congress contested 26 seats and won two; NCP contested 21 and bagged four — but they parted ways in the Maharashtra Assembly polls held months after the general elections. Local elections held in the state recently yielded mixed results for the alliance.

This Maha Aghadi in Maharashtra will not be comprised of just the Congress and NCP. Besides their own negotiations, they are also in talks with other smaller parties in a bid to consolidate a solid anti-BJP unit.

These include former NDA ally Raju Shetti's Swabhiman Paksha, Hitendra Thakur's Bahujan Vikas Aghadi and Prakash Ambedkar's Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh. While Ambedkar has been demanding 12 seats — a figure that the Congress has dubbed unreasonable — Shetti has been pressing for six. The Samajwadi Party, too, may contest from one seat. Both the NCP and Congress have agreed that seats for these parties will be taken out from their own chunk.

Whatever seat-sharing arrangement they agree to for the Lok Sabha polls could also form the basis of how they go about the Maharashtra Assembly elections expected around September-October 2019.

Furthermore, there may be a new, unexpected entrant in this Maha Aghadi in Maharashtra for the Lok Sabha elections. Ajit Pawar, former deputy chief minister and Sharad Pawar's nephew, has been adamant about including Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in the alliance, despite vehement opposition to the demand. Ajit Pawar has maintained that the MNS chief's views on the BJP had changed since he had endorsed Narendra Modi for prime minister. He believes that Thackeray is the Congress-NCP combine's best chance of taking on the BJP and Shiv Sena.

However, this seems highly unlikely. The two parties have always tried to distance themselves from the anti-North Indian stance of the MNS and the violence the party is known for. The alliance fears that any association with Thackeray will only work to the advantage of the saffron units.

Though improbable, Congress-NCP would have the best chance in Maharashtra if they join hands with the Shiv Sena, keeping in mind the continued attacks the Uddhav Thackeray-led outfit has kept up on its alliance partner. However, despite being increasingly critical of the BJP and its "anti-poor" policies, the Sena and BJP have not formally broken their alliance, further ruling out this possibility of the party helping Congress-NCP take down the BJP.

Rahul has reiterated for months that dethroning the BJP was his party's primary aim, and he would go to any length to ensure this happens. Which makes it likely that the Congress is going to play it safe with any alliance that it may try to forge.


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Updated Date: Feb 14, 2019 16:08:45 IST

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