NCP, BJP demand their pound of flesh

The big brothers of two major political alliances in Maharashtra, the Congress and the Shiv Sena are facing tough negotiations, as their alliance partners are demanding more seats for the upcoming state assembly elections.

Though the elections have yet to be officially announced, political parties have taken up their positions on seat-sharing. This is the case with the ruling alliance in the state, the Congress-NCP and the opposing alliance, the SS-BJP. Seat-sharing talks have become so serious that these alliances seem to be on the verge of breakdown. But there are signs that in both sets of alliances, the ‘big brother’ is going to have to give in partially at least, to the demand for more seats by their poll partners.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) led by Sharad Pawar has made that clear ever since it bagged four of the 48 Lok Sabha seats. Though its performance is pathetic, as compared to its eight-seat win in the 2009 elections, it has sought more seats given that the Congress performed more poorly than it did, winning only two seats of the 48 seats in the state.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who represents the hawkish faction in the NCP, has made it clear that since it has performed well in local self-government elections, as well as during the Lok Sabha elections as compared to the Congress, the NCP is no more a small brother and would like an equal share of seats in the coming assembly elections. The NCP had contested 113 seats against the 170 assembly seats contested by the Congress, leaving five seats to smaller parties in the last elections. Now the NCP wants a 50:50 seat-sharing formula, that is it would like to contest 144 assembly seats.

It is not willing to climb down from this demand. The NCP points out that the Congress had snatched  seats from it in 2009, on the basis of its better performance in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. Now the NCP is using the same logic for the assembly elections in 2014.

During the last three elections, both parties have been indulging in rhetoric and posturing for better a deal during the seat-sharing talks. But this time around, it is the NCP that is more determined and  considers the Congress vulnerable.

After its pathetic showing in the Lok Sabha

elections, the Congress is needs allies unlike the NCP, which is monolithic, and is geared for a tough battle.

The state Congress is worried about power plays by Pawar. In talks before previous elections, Pawar had always bypassed the state leadership by taking a final decision after direct dialogue with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.  This time too, he has advised his state leaders to observe restraint, saying the final call will be taken in Delhi during his talks with Gandhi.

 However, Pawar is also saying that for seat-sharing both the parties must take ground realities into consideration before a final decision. He is all for an equal share of seats, and is a tough negotiator.

The Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee, which had to wait for long to end the controversy over Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan’s fate, finds itself in difficulties. It is also fully aware of the skilled negotiator that is Pawar, who can hoodwink the Congress high command. It is also unsure if  Pawar will go with the Congress or on its own in the coming elections. The Congress, under no circumstances, will accept the demand for 50 per cent seats and Pawar may use this to walk away from the alliance.

The preliminary round of talks at the state level are over, wherein the state NCP had already staked its claim over 144 seats out of 288 assembly seats, which the state Congress had outright rejected. The talks will now continue and a final decision will be taken in Delhi.

The Congress is at the most ready to concede 10 to 12 more seats to the NCP. On its part, the NCP may scale it down to 130 and stick to the figure, making it really hard for the Congress to decide. Ultimately the ball will be in Sonia Gandhi’s court and a final decision will be taken only when the parties are faced with the filing of nomination

papers.

Like Congress, the Shiv Sena – the big brother of the saffron alliance, is also facing a difficult road ahead in the matter of seat-sharing with its poll ally of almost three decades, the BJP. The BJP also wants to contest more seats, fifty per cent

or not .

The real issue is who will be the chief minister if the saffron alliance comes to power. The Shiv Sena wants an assurance from the BJP that Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will be the next chief minister if the saffron alliance comes to power in the state, regardless of who wins more seats in the assembly elections.

The BJP is not ready to predetermine the issue of chief ministership of the state without knowing who will contest how many seats and which party will win more seats. It is hopeful that the Modi magic may help it fare well, in which case, it would like a say in the matter of the CM too.

The BJP had contested 119 seats in the 288-member assembly, while the Shiv Sena contested 167. The more aggressive BJP state unit now wants more seats for coming assembly elections since it won 23 Lok Sabha seats against the Shiv Sena’s 18. The Sena is in no mood to give in to the BJP demand for more seats, but is keeping its cards close to its chest. It is using issues like the trouble in Belgaum  and the issue of price rise to keep pressure on the BJP.

The saffron alliance knows that if they let the acrimonious seat-sharing talks affect the rank and file of both the parties, it would prove detrimental for the alliance, as the Congress-NCP would benefit from such a divide. However, with the BJP chief Amit Shah taking a keen interest in Maharashtra and Haryana affairs, both the parties hope they will cross this hurdle quite well. The BJP is being cautious as it does not want to scare off its poll allies even though it has a brute majority in Parliament.

The Shiv Sena may counter the BJP desire

for more seats to demand an assurance on the chief minister’s post for their leader Uddhav Thackeray.

Prakash Bal Joshi

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