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Parties wrestle for top prize in Maharashtra

With the elections to the state assembly drawing near, the chaos in political circles can be hear loud and clear. The latest episode is the statement by BJP chief Amit Shah, which has apparently angered coalition partner Shiv Sena. Shah asked his party leaders to strive to install BJP’s CM in Maharashtra. Before that, NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s meeting with his counterpart from Congress, Sonia Gandhi, in which it was decided to fight the coming elections jointly, silenced his own party men.

Pawar’s decision took a number of NCP members, mostly supporters of his nephew, deputy CM Ajit Pawar, by surprise. Pawar junior and state NCP chief Sunil Tatkare, his close buddy, are not ready to accept a seat share of less than half (144) of the 288 assembly seats from the Congress. So, Pawar senior’s announcement without the acceptable seat ratio will further complicate matters, at a time when NCP feels that Congress was the biggest sufferer in the Lok Sabha polls, with just two seats, compared to its four wins.

Pawar junior and his supporters in NCP argue in private that the party would gain if they fought the state elections alone, as they still maintain pocket boroughs in western and north Maharashtra and a few seats scattered in Marathwada and Vidarbha. NCP (62) and Congress (82) are desperately trying to save every seat they have with them. When Ajit Pawar and Tatkare were jointly executing their strategy, Pawar senior confirmed the alliance without holding seat-sharing talks.

The Congress leadership at the state level was also unhappy with NCP’s demand. Both CM Prithviraj Chavan and MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre are unwilling to accept NCP’s hegemony. Recent statements by them confirmed this. The Congress top brass is confident of a good performance, provided they fight alone. The allegations of scams against prominent NCP leaders may prove harmful for the Congress if they fight jointly, argue the party leaders.

Sharad Pawar seems unhappy over his nephew’s arguments. Now, he has put the onus of seat-sharing on state leaders, with a strong bid to protect his share of secular votes. Even senior Congress leaders, who had a dual mind on continuing with the NCP, were of the view that if they go solo, the message of dividing secular votes would harm them. The Congress top brass in Delhi contended that they should form a pre-poll alliance with the NCP. The NCP, in the post-poll scenario, may go for a strategic alliance with the Shiv Sena, as it does not maintain ideological differences with the Thackerays. And, the possibility is much higher when the UPA is not in power for the next five years.

If the NCP goes solo, it will enjoy the freedom of choosing its partner. If the BJP and Sena come to power, NCP will try to weaken the Congress by going for a strategic partnership with the Sena, say senior Congress leaders.

On the other hand, the Sena is burning the midnight oil to attain the number one position to maintain its supremacy over BJP in the state. For the first time, Uddhav Thackeray is making a strong pitch for the CM’s post, which has surprised many. This decision is a calculated risk to come out of Narendra Modi’s shadow.

The party is nervous over repeated assertions that the 18-seat haul in the Lok Sabha was Modi’s charisma and does not have anything to do with the Thackerays. Uddhav Thackeray’s bid is so serious that he has spread the message among businessmen and developers’ lobby in Mumbai and Pune. Considering that the Sena’s alliance with the BJP is based on the Hindutva plank and lacks complete homogeneity, the BJP’s strong pitch for the top job in the state is to establish itself.

In this context, PM Narendra Modi’s meeting with party MPs from Maharashtra was crucial. Even though he gagged the MPs from revealing details of the meeting, he said BJP ought to end the scandalous 15-year rule of the Congress and the NCP. Both Modi and Amit Shah want a BJP rule for obvious reasons, as Maharashtra shares a border with Gujarat. But, such a bid is certain to displease Sena, which wants to maintain its grip over state politics. The political stage is set to witness interesting developments.

The writer is Political Editor of mid-day

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