The Congress and the NCP have finalised their seat-sharing arrangement for the Maharashtra Assembly polls, with both parties set to contest 125 seats each.
“The Congress and NCP have finalised their alliance. In the upcoming Assembly elections, of the total 288 seats, the two parties will contest 125 each. We have decided to leave 38 seats for our allies,” NCP chief Sharad Pawar told reporters in Nashik on Monday.
Pawar said that of the 38 seats set aside for allies, a decision on who would be given how many would be taken soon. He said there was a possibility of the two parties swapping seats. He also said the two parties were planning to hold joint rallies in Nashik, Pune, Nagpur and Aurangabad.
“Even though we have finalised the seat-sharing, we will work on the modalities of who gets which seat and which candidates need to be put up. We will also decide on how many seats will be allotted to each of our allies like Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, Peasants’ and Workers’ Party and the Left parties,” Pawar said.
Maharashtra Congress president Vijay (Balasaheb) Thorat said talks were on to rope in the SP and the BSP into the alliance.
Thorat claimed that “no discussion had taken place over the inclusion or exclusion of the Raj Thackeray-led MNS in the Opposition alliance”.
Sources, however, said the NCP was initially keen on roping in the MNS, but a section of the Congress leadership is of the opinion that Raj’s presence in the alliance will hurt its support base among North Indian voters. Many in the Congress prefer that the MNS contest independently to engineer a “split” in Shiv Sena’s Marathi vote bank in cities.
On Raj Thackeray, Pawar claimed that the MNS leader was keen on ensuring that elections were boycotted. “We had some talks with Raj about the elections. He was of the opinion that all political parties need to boycott the elections. This was a stand which is unacceptable to us and there was no point in having any talks with him further,” Pawar said.
Burying the hatchet to counter BJP
Facing their toughest state elections in Maharashtra, the Congress and NCP have decided to take a pragmatic approach in burying their differences and arriving at an equitable power-sharing agreement. With large-scale defections having hit both the parties, the two have decided to put up a joint front in countering an ascendant BJP in the state.
The seat-sharing was finalised during a meeting between Pawar and Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi on September 11.
The Maharashtra Assembly has 288 seats. In 2014, both the parties, which have been allies since 1999, fought separately. That year, the Congress contested 287 seats and won 42. The NCP contested 278 seats and won 41. The last time the two parties fought as allies in 2009, the Congress contested 170 seats, winning 82; the NCP fought on 113 seats and won 62. In 2004, which was the first election that the two fought with a pre-poll alliance, the Congress contested 157, winning 69, while NCP contested 124 and won 71.
Meanwhile, cracks in the NCP over the state leadership’s decision to sport saffron flags at NCP rallies and yatras came to the fore yet again, with Pawar remarking that “it was not the party’s decision”. Last month, Pawar’s nephew and NCP’s state legislative party head Ajit Pawar announced that “from now on all NCP rallies and yatras will have the saffron flag with an image of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. This will be used along with our party flag”.
Fearing that this might not go down well with the party’s secular vote bank, a section of senior leaders in the party have been urging the leadership to roll it back.