While the Congress has been targeting the BJP for its overtures towards the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) in Maharashtra, it has now come to light that the Congress too might have attempted to seal a secret pact with the Samajwadi Party in the state.
Sources confirmed that the Congress had been in talks with the SP for not fielding candidates in the Lok Sabha polls. The latter had even offered to withdraw from the race for all the six Lok Sabha seats in Mumbai.
In return, the SP had sought an assurance from the Congress that it would not field candidates from the minority community in seven Assembly seats it was planning to contest in the Vidhan Sabha elections to be held later in the year.
Besides this, the party also wanted the Congress to ensure nomination of a SP member to the state’s Legislative Council.
The Congress considered the offer actively before deciding to let it pass. Sources confirmed that a meeting between state SP chief Abu Azmi and Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan also took place at the latter’s residence on April 2 to discuss the matter.
Sources said that besides Chavan, state’s Parliamentary Affairs Minister Harshvardhan Patil, state Congress chief Manikrao Thakre and legislator Kripashankar Singh had also negotiated with the SP.
After the Congress leaders, who had sought time to respond, did not give a concrete reply till April 5, which was the last day of filing nominations for the six Mumbai seats, the SP decided to go ahead and field candidates on three seats – Mumbai North Central (Azmi’s son Farhan), Mumbai South Central (senior party leader Kasinath Pasi), and Mumbai North (former corporator Kamlesh Yadav).
While Azmi declined to comment on the matter, Thakre confirmed that “the SP had indeed made an offer but it could not materialise”.
Sources said that the Assembly seats where SP wanted the Congress not to field candidates from the minority community included Malegaon, Dhule, Partur, Bandra (East), Mankhurd-Shivajinanagar, and two assembly seats in Bhiwandi. The SP has now fielded candidates for 23 out of the 48 LS seats in the state.
The Congress is particularly wary of its impact in the three LS seats in Mumbai, and has now accused the SP of dividing secular votes.
Sources also confirmed that the SP had alternatively even offered withdrawal of Farhan’s candidature from Mumbai North Central seat should the Congress field a minority face but the Congress chose to retain sitting MP Priya Dutt’s candidature.
While refusing to confirm or deny this development, Abu Azmi claimed that the race in Mumbai North Central was between his son and BJP’s Poonam Mahajan. “There is a huge anti-incumbency against Dutt in the constituency,” he said, refuting claims that Farhan’s candidature was only meant to spoil the Congress’s chances. “The constituency has the highest concentration of minorities in Mumbai. I was keen to contest the seat earlier too. But former SP leader Amar Singh convinced me against it then. We have now fielded Farhan as a winning candidate,” Azmi said.