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Maharashtra assembly polls: On the brink of break up, parties try to salvage alliances

CM Prithviraj Chavan met NCP leaders to discuss seat sharing and sought time to convey the latter’s demands to his high command; meanwhile, Shiv Sena reached out to the BJP with a proposal giving it 130 seats

The long, drawn-out drama over seat sharing continued yesterday, with parties trying to make up with their alliance partners after having been on the edge of breaking up.

In the Congress-NCP camp, Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan met NCP leaders on Tuesday morning and heard their demands. He told them he would revert after discussing the issue with the party high command in Delhi.

Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena, which has been on the offensive for the past two months regarding seat sharing with alliance partner BJP, extended the olive branch and agreed to give more seats to the BJP by snatching some away from the junior partners.

It all began when CM Prithviraj Chavan called a press conference at midnight on Monday only to inform reporters that the Congress and NCP would have a meeting on seat sharing on Tuesday morning.

Before that, a meeting of senior Congress leaders would take place, he told the journalists, who had managed to reach his official residence Varsha in the hope of a major announcement.

The morning meeting remained inconclusive, as the Congress sought time to discuss NCP’s demands with its party high command. The NCP wants to contest half 144 seats in the upcoming assembly polls and has
also demanded the CM’s post for two-and-a-half years (assuming the alliance came to power).

According to a Congress leader, these demands are difficult to accept and the alliance’s continuation seems to be a remote possibility.

Rebels a concern
Chavan, MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre and Industries Minister Narayan Rane had already stated that the Congress was capable of going it all alone and the NCP’s demands were untenable.

So, why bother meeting them again? According to a senior Congress leader, both parties want to stop rebels in their tracks, as most influential names, mostly from the NCP, are expected to join the BJP and Shiv Sena. A host of ministers and MLAs, like ex-ministers Babanrao Pachpute, Sanjay Sawkare, MLA Kisan Kathore have already defected to the BJP.

Secondly, the Congress camp is worried over a warning issued by senior NCP leader Praful Patel, in which he said that all options were open for his party. The Congress wants to stop its partner from supporting any other party and alienating it in state politics, said the leader.

At the Sena-BJP camp
When it seemed all but over for the Sena-BJP alliance, the Sena surprisingly extended an olive branch. While the party chose to stick to its stand of keeping 150 seats for itself (as opposed to the BJP’s 135:135 formula), it promised to give the BJP 130 seats by taking some away from junior allies.

Sena leaders Subhash Desai, Sanjay Raut, Anil Desai and Milind Narvekar, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s personal aide reached the BJP office in Dadar (East) and submitted the fresh proposal.

This overture has the BJP’s rank and file bemused, as the junior alliance partners, like Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, RPI (A), had been promised a higher number of seats and the BJP had already started preparations for ditching the Sena.

A BJP leader reacted soon after the meeting and said that no efforts to reduce number of seats promised to smaller parties from the Mahayuti alliance would be tolerated. Another round of meetings to finalise the seat-sharing formula was set to take place in the evening yesterday, where the new proposal would be taken up for discussion.

The Sena’s initiative is rooted in the concern that it would lose control over cash-rich civic bodies in Mumbai, Thane, Aurangabad and a few others. The party’s own analysis has revealed that they would lose control over seats in Vidarbha and northern Maharashtra, where their presence is negligible, and would have to do away with whatever presence they have in western Maharashtra. Sena, like the Congress, also fears that opportunist rebels may jump ship to the BJP.

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