In the aftermath of the drubbing that the Congress received in the Lok Sabha elections in Maharashtra, the party has renewed its efforts to get Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh leader Prakash Ambedkar on board its anti-BJP coalition.
Finishing with an overall vote share of about eight per cent in the state, the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), an alliance led by Ambedkar and Asaduddin Owaisi of the AIMIM, played a decisive role in the defeat of Congress-NCP candidates in at least seven seats. It had polled over 41.3 lakh votes across 48 seats.
On Tuesday, when leaders belonging to various constituents of the coalition got together to review the reasons behind the humiliating defeat, the impact that the VBA left on the polls dominated the discussion. The Congress, recording its worst-ever performance in the state, won just one seat, the NCP won four, and another Yuva Swabhimani Party won a single seat.
Senior Congress and NCP leaders, who were present for the meeting, blamed the VBA for a “division of secular votes”. Some Lok Sabha candidates from the alliance even complained that this was as a “deliberate” measure.
Earlier, in the run-up to the poll campaign, the Congress and the NCP had reached out to Ambedkar to join their coalition but seat-sharing talks failed between the two sides. In the election campaign, the coalition’s star campaigners had publicly accused Ambedkar’s alliance of “a tacit understanding” with the BJP.
But after being decimated in the elections, the parties have decided to once again open the door for negotiations. “We are open to talks with him. He should be willing as well,” said state Congress president Ashok Chavan.
Ironically, the votes polled by the VBA in Nanded, where Chavan was defeated, were also in excess of his losing margin.
Meanwhile, the coalition has decided to stay together despite the loss.
“We will contest the state polls unitedly,” said NCP president Jayant Patil. It has been decided that senior leaders will go on tours across the state to re-energise workers and target the ruling combine over inadequate drought mitigation measures.
Sources said an action plan to prevent an exodus from Congress and NCP was also discussed. “We know the MLAs and leaders who are vulnerable. Seniors are in constant touch with them,” a senior leader said.
Congress’s former leader of opposition (LoP) Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil on Tuesday held discussions with senior state minister Girish Mahajan at the latter’s official residence. Sources said Vikhe-Patil will formally join the BJP soon. He is expected to get a cabinet berth, sources said.
Apart from Vikhe-Patil, four other Congress MLAs Kalidas Kolambkar, Nitesh Rane, Abdul Sattar, and Jaykumar Gore are also in touch with the BJP.
Swabhimaani Shetkari Sanghathana’s Raju Shetti was attended the meeting along with representatives from the Peasants and Workers Party, the CPI(M), and the SP.