NCP president Sharad Pawar has decided to enter the Lok Sabha fray. Ending days of intense speculation, the 78-year-old Pawar, a former Union minister and a three-time chief minister, on Thursday accepted the Maharashtra NCP’s proposal that he should contest from Solapur’s Madha constituency, which he had won with a thumping majority in 2009.
While the NCP is yet to officially declare Pawar’s candidature, senior leaders present at a meeting that Pawar attended on Thursday confirmed that he has agreed to contest.
Pawar had polled 58 per cent of all votes (5.31 lakh out of 9.19 lakh), defeating his nearest candidate — BJP’s Subhash Deshmukh — by over 3.14 lakh votes. Deshmukh is now a Cabinet minister in the Devendra Fadnavis government.
With Pawar taking the Rajya Sabha route to the Parliament in 2014, NCP’s Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil won the seat, polling 45 per cent votes and defeating Swabhimani Paksha’s Sadabhau Khot (also a minister in the Fadnavis government) by just 25,344 votes.
At a time when there was opposition from within the local party ranks over Mohite-Patil’s renomination, Pawar has seized the opportunity to re-enter the election ring. According to insiders, this would give him an advantage to make a bid even for the top job were the Lok Sabha polls throw up a hung verdict.
Pawar’s nephew Ajit, also NCP’s legislative party leader in Maharashtra, said: “During the meeting today (Thursday), everyone unanimously felt that Pawarsaheb should enter the election ring. He heard all of us and later said that he would revert in a couple of days.” Former Union Minister Praful Patel said: “We are confident that Pawarsaheb will accept the party’s proposal. An official announcement in this regard will be made soon.” Hinting at the party’s keenness for a bigger role for Pawar in national politics post the 2019 election outcome, Patel said: “This is just a trailer. Picture abhi baaki hai.”
Patel, meanwhile, informed that Pawar and Congress president Rahul Gandhi met on Wednesday to discuss the seat-sharing pact between the two parties in Maharashtra. “The poll arrangement has been finalised. It has been decided that Mallikarjun Kharge (AICC Maharashtra in charge) and myself will hold one final meeting to discuss some seats. But an official announcement regarding the alliance will take place once deliberations with other (smaller) parties are completed. We are expecting to come out with our list of candidates in the next four to five days,” said Patel.
The first joint public meeting of the Congress and the NCP would take place on February 20 in Nanded, while the second one would be held in Parli three days later, said Ajit.
During the meeting between Rahul and Pawar, sources said, it was decided that eight of the total 48 seats in the state would be offered to the smaller parties. Both parties have continued to woo Bhimrao Ambedkar’s grandson Prakash Ambedkar though his party, the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh — which had earlier announced a poll tie-up with the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM — has already announced likely candidates for some of the seats.
Ajit Pawar said: “Attempts are being made to get Prakash Ambedkar onboard.” To lure Ambedkar, the Congress and the NCP have decided to offer him four seats (he has been demanding 12). According to sources, chances of him joining the alliance are bleak at present.
With Hitendra Thakur’s Bahujan Vikas Aghadi playing truant, the Congress has decided to offer the Palghar seat from its quota to the CPI(M). CPI(M) central committee member Dr Ashok Dhawale said: “The party’s first priority was the Dindori seat (in Nashik). We had made this clear to the Congress and the NCP leaders during our talks. Palghar was the second option.” While the CPI(M) wants to field its sole sitting legislator Jiva Pandu Gavit from Dindori, NCP sources said the party was unwilling to vacate its claim on the seat. But Dhawale hinted that CPI(M) would be willing to consider the Palghar option. “Our cardinal aim at the moment is to defeat the BJP,” he said.
NCP leaders also said that former NDA constituent, Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, has now been offered two seats — one each from the Congress and the NCP quota — while the NCP wants to give one seat from its quota (Kalyan) to Raj Thackeray’s MNS.
Sources, meanwhile, said former Maharashtra ministers Chhagan Bhujbal and Ganesh Naik are unwilling to contest from Nashik and Thane, respectively, despite the party’s proposal to do so. Bhujbal’s nephew Sameer and Naik’s son Sanjeev are likely to contest the seats instead.