WITH THE Congress-led Opposition’s poll campaign in Maharashtra hit by multiple defections, party president Rahul Gandhi and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, on Tuesday, reviewed the grand alliance’s poll fortunes.
In a meeting lasting over an hour, sources said that the two leaders discussed ways and means to stop the exodus, while also holding deliberations over the formalisation of the seat-sharing pact between the two parties, as well as the arrangement with the smaller regional parties, who have agreed to be a part of the alliance.
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While Congress and NCP had firmed up an alliance for the polls a month ago, differences between the two parties in regard to four seats — Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg and Aurangabad (Congress quota), Raver and Amravati (NCP quota) — and delays in the finalisation of the seats to be allotted to the smaller parties has been holding back the formal announcement of the poll pact.
But following Tuesday’s meeting, which was also attended by AICC Maharashtra in charge Malliakarjun Kharge, sources said the formal announcement may come in two days.
On Tuesday, the Opposition’s boat was rocked with former NCP MP Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil, a ticket aspirant from Madha, announcing that he is set to join BJP. Ranjitsinh’s father Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, a sitting NCP MP and a former state deputy chief minister, publicly backed his son’s move, making it clear that he too would be on the BJP’s side this election.
This is a second major jolt to the Opposition in a week. Last week, Sujay Vikhe-Patil, the son of Congress veteran and Leader of Opposition (LoP) in Legislative Assembly, Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, had joined the BJP.
Even as the NCP played down the impact of Mohite-Patil’s exit, it is being seen as a political coup in the state’s political circles.
Withstanding the Modi wave, Vijaysinh had won the 2014 polls for the NCP from Madha. Besides being a leading political family, the Mohite-Patils have a prominent presence in the state’s cooperative sugar industry, which holds the key the political power in rural Maharashtra.
NCP spokesperson Nawab Mallik said, “While you always feel saddened when someone, who has been with the party for so long, goes, it won’t impact the party’s prospects in Madha. We are confident of a win. Over the years, the party gave them (Mohite-Patils) a lot.”
The day was also marked with added concern in the Congress camp after the news of Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil offering to step down from the LoP’s post trickled in.
Since his son’s defection to the BJP, Radhakrishna had been facing fire from within the party ranks. But the latest development has triggered intense speculation over his own future within the party. While the LoP had earlier said that he would remain within the Congress, questions regarding his “growing proximity” to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis have been raised inside party forums. While Radhakrishna remained unavailable for comment, sources close to him said that he had communicated his willingness to step down to the party’s central leadership in Delhi, which is yet to decide on the matter.
Amid growing clamour for his resignation, Radhakrishna had blamed Sharad Pawar for raking up the long standing political feud between himself and Radhakrishna’s father (late) Eknathrao (Balasaheb) Vikhe-Patil, which he contended had incited Sujay’s defection.
But his defence does not appear to have cut much ice with the party high command, said sources. However, there is a section within the Congress that is not in favour of the party “initiating action” against him. “If he is on his way out, the party should not give him grounds to justify his move,” a former minister said.
Intense speculation also revolved around Congress’ Satara (Mann-Khatau) MLA Jaykumar Gore, following reports that BJP negotiators were holding talks with him. Despite repeated attempts, Gore could not be contacted for a response.