In the new year, negotiations between smaller parties and the opposition Congress and NCP are expected to gather momentum in a bid to take on the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in the state and general elections. Swabhimani Paksha MP Raju Shetti said he was optimistic about the likelihood of Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar joining the opposition alliance.
Weeks after the result of the five assembly elections, senior leaders of the NCP and Congress say they have managed to achieve consensus over many seats. They will now start negotiations on how to accommodate smaller allies, sources said. Several rounds of meetings, the latest of which was held last week, have already taken place between party leaders for finalising a deal.
“We have asked for five Lok Sabha seats but are ready to compromise,” said Shetti, who represents the Hatkanagale seat in Kolhapur district. His party has asked for the seats of Buldhana, Kolhapur, Sangli, Mhada, Wardha, Dhule, Aurangabad and Prabhani. Shetti said he was optimistic about the progress of the talks, but sources said the party is not very optimistic about its chances in all the seats.
The Swabhimani Paksha has a strong base in Kolhapur and other parts of western Maharashtra, but its presence in the rest of the state is marginal at best.
However, its support in some pockets of Vidarbha and Marathwada can’t be written off in a closely contested election, and, given Shetti’s reputation as a farmer leader, the Opposition is keen to have him. Shetti’s influence among farmers, in large part, comes from two private member’s Bills that he introduced in the Lok Sabha. One Bill sought a complete debt waiver for farmers, while the second sought to ensure payment of 1.5 times the production cost to farmers.
On his part, Shetti is confident he can bring Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar into the grand Opposition alliance. Ambedkar has already entered into an alliance with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) to contest the general and assembly elections. MIM, with its two MLAs and presence in various local bodies, has emerged as a strong contender for Muslim votes who traditionally have voted for Congress. While refusing to ally with AIMIM for their “extremist ideology”, Shetti is keen that Ambedkar should join the opposition alliance.
“We will be meeting again in the first week of January for further talks. If talks fail, our party will fight the election on its own strength,” said Shetti.