Farmer leader Raju Shetti, who heads the Swabhimani Paksha, which was in alliance with the Congress-NCP during the Lok Sabha elections, said his party would go solo in the upcoming state Assembly elections if Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and Raj Thackeray’s MNS were not taken on board. Senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar also maintained that Ambedkar’s party should be made part of the alliance to challenge the BJP-Shiv Sena government.
“If MNS and VBA are not part of the ‘maha-alliance’ in Maharashtra, then we will also not be a part of it,” Shetti said in response to newly-elected Maharashtra Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat’s remarks that they would like to take all like-minded parties that believe in democratic principles on board.
Ambedkar key to Cong-NCP alliance’s fate
Though the Congress and NCP seem to be keen on getting the VBA to join their alliance, Prakash Ambedkar, who heads the VBA, has proved to be unreliable so far. During the Lok Sabha polls, he had placed impossible demands on the alliance, and ultimately fought separately, and hurt the alliance decisively in many seats. Ambedkar has talked about allying with Congress-NCP for the state assembly elections, but is yet to make his demands clear.
Thorat had told The Indian Express last week that the Congress-NCP alliance was keen to have a tie-up with VBA, but was not sure about MNS. “We had initiated talks with the VBA before the Lok Sabha elections, but regarding MNS, we haven’t had any discussions.”
However, Shetti said there was no need for the MNS to approach Congress. “Raj Thackeray made it clear that he is against the BJP. He had attacked the BJP in his speeches during the Lok Sabha elections. Also, why can’t Congress approach MNS? Why should Thackeray approach Congress when he was already talking in favour of the Congress-NCP alliance?” asked Shetti.
The Paksha leader said he had held two rounds of discussions with Thackeray. “During our talks, he sounded positive of joining the Congress-NCP alliance though he did not commit anything. I think if Congress approaches Raj, he won’t say no,” Shetti said.
Stating that the BJP has thrown up a big challenge before the opposition parties by targeting over 200 seats in the state elections, Shetti said: “Since the BJP-Sena will go all out in this election too, it is important for the opposition to take along all those who are like-minded and ready to join hands. The initiative should come from bigger parties like the Congress and the NCP.”
During the Lok Sabha elections, VBA chief Prakash Ambedkar kept saying that he would not talk to state leaders and discuss seat-sharing only with the Congress central leadership. However, the then Congress president, Rahul Gandhi, did not give Ambedkar an appointment. Now, Ambedkar has again said he will only talk to the central leadership of Congress. Shetti said the Congress state leadership should talk to their central leaders. “I can’t understand the Congress leaders in state. Why can’t they talk to their central leaders?”
Shetti said if the alliance with the Congress-NCP didn’t materialise, his party was in a position to field candidates on more than 100 seats.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar told The Indian Express that he was also in favour of a grand alliance to take on the BJP-Shiv Sena. “If all opposition parties join hands, then there is no reason why we can’t defeat the BJP-Shiv Sena,” he said.
Pawar said the NCP was keen to take VBA on board as its candidates had caused lot of damage to the Congress-NCP alliance. “We lost at least nine seats and had the VBA been with us, we would have won not only those nine seats but it would have helped us in creating a positive atmosphere and win more number of seats.”
On Sunday, Thorat said a decision regarding approaching VBA and MNS for a grand alliance will be discussed at a meeting in Mumbai. “We have a committee of seniors like Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chavan and Manikrao Thakre. We will discuss the issue at a meeting on Monday,” he said, adding he would not comment on the subject before that.