AS the countdown for counting day begins — Lok Sabha election results will be declared on May 23 — leaders of the Nationalist Congress Party, which is in alliance with the Congress and over 55 other smaller parties in Maharashtra, said they were “excited” about the party’s “best performance” since its formation in 1999. The NCP contested 22 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state.
“We are confident that our party will win 12 to 15 seats,” NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik told The Indian Express on Saturday. “It could even be more, including the two seats from our quota that we gave to our alliance partners,” he said.
Since it was formed in 1999, the NCP has never been able to make it to a double-digit number in Lok Sabha elections. In the 1999 Lok Sabha elections, it won eight seats, in the 2004 and 2009 polls, the party won nine seats and in the 2014 parliamentary polls, it won four seats. The party later won a seat in a bypoll.
Besides the five Lok Sabha seats which it won in the last elections — Baramati, Madha, Satara, Kolhapur and Bhandara-Gondiya — NCP leaders said they were confident of winning several other seats, including Maval, Shirur, Raigad, Osmanabad, Parbhani, Buldhana and Ahmednagar. “There are at least four other seats like Jalgaon, Beed, Dindori and Nashik, where we expect to win… besides, we are confident that our alliance partners will win from Hatkanangale and Amravati seats,” said Malik.
But, in NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s bastion of Baramati, the NCP, for the first time, seems to be unsure of a definite victory for its candidate, party leader and two-term MP Supriya Sule, who is facing BJP leader Kanchan Kul. After Baramati went to polls on April 23, Pawar has, on at least three occasions, expressed doubts about the functioning of electronic voting machines (EVMs). “I have myself seen that when a button in front of clock (the NCP symbol) was pressed, the vote went to the lotus symbol of BJP,” he had said.
Referring to state Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil’s comments about BJP being
sure of a victory in Baramati, Pawar had said if a state government minister was so confident of winning the seat, it raised doubts about the functioning of EVMs.
Patil had responded,”This reflected Pawar’s concerns about losing Baramati… the BJP is fully confident of winning the seat. We have seen the voters’ mood swing in our favour.”
Sule has stayed silent on her chances. But, at an event in Pune, she said the use of ballot papers was more transparent than EVMs. “The issue of EVMs has been raised by the opposition in the entire country. The fight against EVMs will continue,” Sule had said.
The party also has a lot at stake in Maval, where it has fielded Ajit Pawar’s son Parth Pawar. Political analysts, however, point out that the BJP-Shiv Sena combine has been winning the seat with decisive margins since the 2009 elections, and both parties have a solid voter base.
Parth’s main opponent is Sena MP Shrirang Barne. “It is going to be a tough fight. That’s what the entire Maval area believes. Nobody is confident about who will win as both Sena and NCP are strong in the region,” said analyst Mahadev Sahasrabudhe, adding that the role of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, an alliance headed by Prakash Ambedkar that has fielded its own candidates, will be crucial in deciding the outcome in Maval.
In other western Maharashtra seats, NCP leaders said the party will not only win in Kolhapur, but also secure a victory in Ahmednagar.
But BJP leaders have dismissed these claims and said it would be difficult for the NCP to defeat Sujay Vikhe-Patil, the
BJP candidate from Ahmednagar, whose family enjoys widespread support in the area. Similarly, in Kolhapur, despite NCP fielding MP Dhananjay Mahadik, its alliance partner Congress has openly supported Shiv Sena candidate Sanjay Mandalik.
If NCP does manage to win 12 to 15 seats, the party is likely to look for a bigger role at the national level. “Our leader Sharad Pawar, who has been trying to unite all opposition parties, will play a bigger role in the formation of the non-NDA government at the Centre,” said Malik.
On speculation about Pawar’s friendship with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Malik said,”Let them speculate …Pawarsaheb will play a key role in bringing the opposition together during government formation,” he said.