After a rout of the Opposition alliance in the recently concluded Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra, Congress workers have urged the party leadership to strike an alliance with Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) ahead of the state Assembly elections, instead of the NCP. The Sharad Pawar-led party, meanwhile, seems to be keen on getting Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) on board the grand alliance.
With just one seat, the Congress recorded its worst performance in the 2019 Lok Sabha elections in the state, even lower than the two seats — Nanded and Hingoli — it won here in the 2014 general elections. Congress’s Suresh Dhanorkar defeated BJP’s Hansraj Ahir, junior minister for home, in Chandrapur this year.
At a party meeting in Mumbai on Thursday, a section of Congress leaders alleged that in some constituencies the NCP rank and file had worked against its ally, leading to their defeat. The leaders also claimed that the VBA, which polled nearly 41 lakh votes in the general elections, was responsible for the defeat of Congress-NCP candidates in at least nine seats. Senior Congress leaders, like Ashok Chavan and Sushil Kumar Shinde, were among those who had lost due to the presence of VBA candidates.
This comes at a time when Prakash Ambedkar has said that VBA won’t discuss possibility of alliance with the Congress and NCP until the two parties came clear on their accusation that VBA was the BJP’s “B-team”.
On Monday Ambedkar had said: “They (Congress-NCP) had labeled us the ‘B-team’ of the BJP. We had to contest the (Lok Sabha) polls (on our own) because you (Congress and NCP) were not ready to adjust.” The VBA had contested all 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra after alliance talks with the Congress and NCP fell through.
While the Congress is yet to respond to Ambedkar’s jibe, party leaders from the state also remained non-committal over the demand for an pre-poll alliance with the VBA.
The NCP expressed surprised over the allegations that its leaders had worked against Congress candidates in some Lok Sabha constituencies. “Show me at least one constituency where this has happened… In fact, Congress’s lone winner in Chandrapur told me that NCP leaders put in their might for him,” NCP leader Ajit Pawar said.
Accusing Congress leaders of “openly and brazenly” working for BJP candidates, NCP spokesperson Ankush Kakade said: “In Ahmednagar, Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil campaigned for his son, who was contesting on BJP ticket. Similarly, in Kolhapur, Congress leaders openly supported a Shiv Sena candidate.”
The NCP, meanwhile, seemed to be keen to taken the MNS on board in the forthcoming Assembly elections. Kakade said the Congress was against the MNS during the Lok Sabha elections.
“However, after Raj Thackeray held rallies attacking Modi-Shah duo and succeeded in drawing crowds, Congress candidates themselves started demanding that Raj’s rallies should be held in their constituencies. We, therefore, feel those who are against the BJP should all join hands… It could be MNS or other secular parties,” he said.
MNS spokesperson Sandeep Deshpande said the party was yet to take any decision in this regard.
“Our leadership has not yet decided anything on this count… So it won’t be appropriate to say if the MNS would join the alliance or not,” he said.
Earlier, Congress state chief Ashok Chavan had ruled out such an alliance, saying that the Congress and MNS were “ideologically different parties”.