Mumbai: Amidst internal disagreements within the INDIA block over seat allocation, where state Congress leaders and the organization have struggled to reach consensus, the Congress leadership has opted to finalize the party's Lok Sabha candidates in the state based on advice from NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, according to highly placed sources.
A pivotal discussion on this matter took place approximately ten days ago in Delhi, involving Pawar, AICC President Mallikarjun Kharge, and senior Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, as per insiders.
28 out of the 48 seats expected to go to the INDIA block
Following the divisions within Shiv Sena and the NCP in Maharashtra, the Congress high command aims to ensure a certain victory in the state by aligning the INDIA block and Congress. Surveys conducted over the past six months have shown unfavorable results for the BJP. According to these surveys, 28 out of the 48 seats in the state are expected to go to the INDIA block, whereas the BJP-led front is likely to secure only 20 seats. However, due to substantial support in 2014 and 2019, the Shiv Sena (UBT) currently has the maximum number of MPs within the INDIA block in the state. The party is anticipated to stake its claim on 25 out of the 48 seats, presenting a significant challenge for other parties in the INDIA alliance.
In this context, Sharad Pawar is perceived as the only leader capable of bridging the divide. The ongoing cold war among Congress leaders in the state, including former CM Ashok Chavan, LoP Vijay Wadettiwar, Satej Patil, MPCC Chief Nana Patole, Pranati Shinde, Amit Deshmukh, and Vishwajeet Kadam, is an open secret and could impact seat distribution. The Congress leadership believes that only Sharad Pawar can negotiate with Uddhav Thackeray and persuade him to agree to the Congress's terms. Pawar Sr. also possesses in-depth knowledge of the strongholds of the Ajit Pawar-led faction of the NCP, making him the most suitable leader to decide on candidates in those areas.
Furthermore, Prakash Ambedkar's VBA caused a significant split in opposition votes in 2019, dealing a blow to the Congress. However, Ambedkar is now in alliance with the Shiv Sena (UBT) and recently had a meeting with Pawar Sr. at the YB Centre in Mumbai on Saturday. This meeting has reportedly enhanced Pawar's potential to form a viable opposition front.
MPCC Chief Nana Patole visited Delhi last week regarding the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. However, he received no clear signals from the Congress high command, indicating the outcome of Kharge and Gandhi's meeting with Pawar Sr., according to insiders. They also highlighted Rahul Gandhi's recent positive tone regarding Pawar's friendship with industrialist Gautam Adani as a sign of confirmation of this strategy.