The Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), an alliance of parties led by Prakash Ambedkar, on Sunday spoke about holding discussions with the Congress-led front ahead of the assembly elections, but also made it clear that any such discussion will have to be at an “equal level.”
“In the assembly elections, the decision of the Congress (sic) is to be made in the party meeting. If the Congress wants to discuss with the deprived bahujan…then it will be equal to the same level,” tweeted VBA chief Prakash Ambedkar.
He added, “Slavery system is over with the Congress.”
Though there was no clarity as to what Ambedkar meant by “equal to the same level,” VBA leaders said it meant that the alliance wants to contest from an equal number of seats in the assembly elections. “Of the 288 seats, it wants to contest 144 seats…,” said a VBA leader.
The VBA, which didn’t join hands with the Congress-NCP alliance in the Lok Sabha elections and fielded candidates on its own, is buoyed by the fact that it received 14.55 per cent votes.
The Congress received 16.27 per cent votes while the NCP secured 15.52 per cent votes. Though VBA won only one seat in this election, it ate into the vote share of the opposition alliance and affected the electoral outcome in at least nine Lok Sabha seats, such as Nanded and Hatkanangale, from where state Congress chief Ashok Chavan and farmers’ leader Raju Shetti lost.
In both these seats, the VBA candidates received more than one lakh votes, which sealed the fates of Chavan and Shetti. The lone winner for VBA was AIMIM leader Imtiyaz Jaleel, who defeated Sena’s four-time winner Chandrakant Khaire by a slender margin of 4,000 votes in Aurangabad .
Shetti, whose party Swabhimani Paksha fought the Lok Sabha elections in alliance with the Congress-NCP, said, “This is an unreasonable demand. But if Prakash Ambedkar is ready to hold talks, let there be discussions. I am sure some sort of arrangement can be worked out during the assembly elections.”
Shetti said he lost the election because of the presence of the VBA candidate. “The VBA caused damage to the Congress-NCP alliance in at least 9-10 seats. The BJP-Sena benefitted immensely. I have no clue why the VBA wanted the BJP-Sena to benefit when it was talking of protecting the Constitution…,” he said.
The Swabhimani Paksha leader said he will also talk to MNS chief Raj Thackeray. “The MNS should be accommodated in the Congress-led front. Raj Thackeray, through his speeches, had attacked the BJP-Sena governments at the state and the Centre and had done his best for our alliance. I will be meeting Raj…,” he said.
At a press conference in Mumbai on Saturday, Ashok Chavan had said, ”The VBA was the B-team of BJP and its candidate ensured the defeat of Congress-NCP alliance candidates in at least nine seats”. Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said the party was still introspecting on the recent loss and would soon come up with an effective strategy to contest the assembly elections.
The VBA and the Congress-NCP alliance had held several rounds of seat-sharing discussions but failed to come to any arrangement for the Lok Sabha elections.
Ambedkar had insisted that his party should get 12 seats, but the Congress was reluctant to part with that many seats. The VBA chief has also said that he will not talk to any leader from the Congress except party chief Rahul Gandhi. However, Gandhi didn’t meet Ambedkar.
The Congress finally decided against an alliance with the VBA and even accused it of playing into the BJP’s hands.