The prospects of a grand alliance of Opposition parties in Maharashtra seems to be crumbling with smaller parties like Bahujan Vanchit Agadhi, CPM, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna and Samajwadi Party expressing their intent of fighting the Lok Sabha elections on their own.
The Congress-NCP combine’s biggest bet was on ensuring that Prakash Ambedkar’s Bahujan Vanchit Agadhi, which he had floated with AIMIM’s Asaduddin Owaisi, stayed on its side. On Tuesday, Ambedkar announced that it will field candidates in all 48 Lok Sabha constituencies in Maharashtra, thereby ending any possibility of an alliance with the Congress-led front.
“We had given them enough time to decide. But the Congress-led front failed to respond to our offers,” Ambedkar told The Indian Express. He added that as a last resort, he had told the Congress that it could field candidates in the 22 seats where he has already announced candidates. “I told them that wherever they think our candidate is weak and they have a strong candidate, they can field their candidate… But there was no response from them,” he said.
Ambedkar had first sought to contest 13 seats, but continued to announce candidates in more seats. The Congress-NCP alliance had offered four seats to him, which he rejected.
Describing the decision as “very unfortunate”, state Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant said that the move will strengthen the BJP-Sena alliance and deal a blow to Dalits and other minorities, who are facing injustice and fighting for their democratic rights.
Stating that voters will reject Ambedkar’s decision, NCP chief spokesperson Nawab Malik said, “People are well aware who can defeat the communal forces. Therefore, Ambedkar’s experiment will not succeed.”
Ambedkar, while emphasising that the Congress-NCP and BJP-Sena alliances will be hit hard with his decision to go solo, said: “Besides Dalits and Muslims, we have OBCs, Malis and Dhangars. We have not yet touched the Maratha community…”
On Tuesday, the CPM, too, said that it will field seven-time MLA Jiva Pandu Gavit from Dindori seat. “CPM has a strong base in Dindori and we have decided to contest from here. The Congress-NCP combine should leave this seat for the CPM. If our demand is not met, the CPM will contest elections not only from Dindori but also from Palghar and Solapur,” Gavit said. A proposal to this effect has been passed by the Nashik district committee of the party on Monday.
The CPM has been in talks with the Congress-NCP for a seat-sharing arrangement with the party seeking two seats. While the two parties are fine with allotting Palghar to the CPM, the Dindori seat is a point of contention as NCP is not keen to part with the constituency. Of the total six Assembly sections in the constituency, the NCP has control over three.
Meanwhile, Raju Shetti-led Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna (SSS) on Tuesday gave a two-day ultimatum to the Congress-NCP combine to decide on a tie-up with the party, else it will field candidates on 15 seats. Shetti is seeking three seats from Congress-NCP — Wardha, Buldhana and Hatkanangale. Claiming that the Congress-NCP combine lacked seriousness, he said: “We are prepared to contest 15 constituencies on our own.”
On Congress and NCP leaders still being in touch with him, Shetti said: “What is the use of such talks.”
Shetti held a meeting of senior party functionaries on Tuesday. A leader, who attended the meeting, said the Congress has been insisting that SSS contest from seats like Jalna, Akola or Sindhudurg. “We do not have any presence there, so the question of contesting does not arise,” the leader added. In fact, Shetti held deliberations with NDA constituent and state Minister Mahadev Jankar, who heads the Rashtriya Samaj Paksha.
The Samajwadi Party said that while it is keen on joining hands with the Congress, the party seems to be hesitant in accommodating allies. The SP is demanding at least one of any five seats in and around Mumbai — Mumbai South, Mumbai South Central, Bhiwandi, Mumbai North West or Mumbai North Central. Both Congress and NCP are unwilling to hand over these seats. They have instead asked the SP to contest from either Mumbai North or Jalna. The SP is unwilling to fight on these seats, as it does not a base in these constiteunceis.
“I think Congress does not want an alliance with us. Several days have passed and we have received no response. We are only demanding one seat, if possible Bhiwandi constituency,” MLA and state party president Abu Asim Azmi said.
The smaller parties have small but important support bases that could be the difference between victory and defeat in several seats in the state. The Congress had been keen on putting up a united front of Opposition parties against the BJP. It has, however, been unsuccessful in endearing itself to any of these parties.