The Congress and Samajwadi Party forged a partnership for the assembly elections in Maharashtra on Thursday, kicking off what seems a rapid realignment of political ties a day after both the ruling and opposition alliances in the state ruptured.
The state now appears set for a five-way contest after the opposition BJP and Shiv Sena ended their 25-year-old relationship and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) snapped ties with the Congress following differences over sharing of seats.
Elections to the 288-member assembly are set for October 15 and, given the imminent split in votes, are likely to produce a fractured mandate.
Samajwadi Party spokesman Abdul Qadir Chaudhary told reporters that Abu Asim Azmi, the party’s state chief, met Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and state Congress president Manikrao Thakare late on Thursday and decided to finalise the new alliance.
"About four to five seats, including Shivajinagar-Mankhurd from where Azmi himself is (the) sitting MLA and is seeking re-election (would be contested)," Chaudhary said.
Talks are on for seats like Bhiwandi, Kurla, Miraj, Nagpur Central among others, he said, adding that his party will contest eight seats in alliance with the Congress.
Some reports said Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackaray had twice called his estranged cousin, Raj, who heads the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), to check on his health, suggesting political possibilities between the two. Neither party has, however, commented on their interaction.
Both the BJP and Congress are pushing for pacts with smaller parties and for tacit understanding at local levels. The parties have just two days to name their candidates.
The BJP has managed to retain three of the four smaller allies from its erstwhile alliance with Shiv Sena. It is also wooing the Ramdas Athawale-led Republican Party of India.
The Congress will align with Jogendra Kawade and Sulabha Kumbhare's political groupings, which have a presence in the Vidarbha region.
Much is expected to change after the Shiv Sena-BJP fallout.
For instance, the urban Mumbai-Thane-Pune-Nashik belt that elects about 60 MLAs could see a five-way contest with the MNS, which has a limited presence in the state but is a factor in these regions.
Meanwhile, the BJP has ruled out a post-poll tie-up with the NCP.
"The question doesn't arise," Rajiv Pratap Rudy, the BJP general secretary in charge of the state, said on Thursday.
"Why should there be a future alliance? I can tell you with certainty that we are going it alone. They (Congress and NCP) are going to be non-existent in the state after elections."
Maharashtra BJP president Devendra Fadnavis also strongly refuted Shiv Sena’s allegations. Fadnavis claimed that his party, along with its alliance with other smaller parties, will emerge victorious in the ensuing state assembly elections.
He said that since the BJP has been fighting against the corrupt practices of the NCP and Congress, there is no question of having any kind of tacit understanding with NCP.
(With input from agencies)