Mumbai : The Swabhimaani Shetkari Sanghatana, led by Lok Sabha member Raju Shetty, on Tuesday joined the NDA, boosting the saffron combine’s hope of penetrating the sugar belt in western Maharashtra, which remains the unchallenged bastion of the ruling Congress-NCP combine.
The development is a setback for the Aam Aadmi Party, which had been inclined to use the good offices of Shetty’s outfit to make its debut in western Maharashtra.
BJP leader Gopinath Munde, who played an important role in fostering the alliance, told reporters that Shetty had discussed a probable alliance with AAP before the Delhi Assembly polls. Shetty backed out after Arvind Kejriwal formed a government with Congress support in the national capital.
Reacting to Shetty’s decision, AAP leader Mayank Gandhi said, “Shetty was apparently using his parleys with us as a leverage in homing his advantage with the Sena-BJP-RPI combine.”
Munde expressed the hope that the Sena-BJP combine, which had never won in the Solapur-Kolhapur sugar belt dominated by the NCP and the Congress, would open its account in the elections with the Sanghatna on board.
The Sanghatana’s decision came after a meeting between Shetty, Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray, Munde and Ramdas Athawale at Uddhav’s residence in Bandra.
On the terms of the alliance, Munde said his party has accepted Shetty’s demands on implementation of recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee, the Rangrajan Committee and on setting up of a famine commission.
“…The Centre has accepted only the sugar de-control recommendation of the Rangrajan committee,” he said.
Munde said the saffron alliance would hold seat-sharing talks on January 14.
“Earlier Shetty had declared that his outfit will contest Maadha, Sangli, Kolhapur and Hatkanangale Lok Sabha seats. These are the seats which Sena-BJP has never won, so we are pinning our hopes on Shetty as he has a considerable following in these areas,” the Deputy Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha said.
In 2009, Sena had contested 26 seats and the BJP 22 of the total 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state. Shetty, who represents Hatkanangale seat, has been spearheading the agitation against sugar barons and has a following among farmers in these areas. “The Sena-BJP-RPI tie-up with Shetty will be a formidable alliance and is a jolt for the Congress-NCP. We are in talks with the Peasants and Workers Party as well,” Munde said.
In 2009 elections, Shetty and Sadashiv Mandlik had won the Hatkanangale and Kolhapur Lok Sabha seats, respectively, as independents. Mandlik later joined the Congress.
On Sharad Pawar-led NCP’s plans to field ministers for Lok Sabha polls, the BJP MP said, “Ministers would be easiest lot to defeat since there is a lot of anger against the state government”.
Munde said he was ready to accept the challenge of Deputy Chief Minister and Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit Pawar if the latter decides to contest from Beed Lok Sabha seat, currently held by Munde.
“There are three ministers, namely, Ajit Pawar, Jaidutt Kshirsagar and Suresh Dhas who want to contest against me. If NCP is serious about the contest, they should field Ajit Pawar. I accept that challenge,” he added.