While Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leaders were claiming they were taking all efforts to keep the alliance intact, Congress leaders were sceptical about the increasing closeness between their ally and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
A section of NCP leaders, including deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and state unit chief Sunil Tatkare, have been insisting on going solo in the Assembly elections. Ajit is confident of winning more seats than its ally in the election. The reason? The NCP’s rising strength in the civic bodies in various districts. Ajit’s ambition to become chief minister has never been a secret and he firmly believed that going solo is the option to bag the post.
His uncle and party chief Sharad Pawar, however, was in favour of continuing ties with the Congress. Pawar and his lieutenant Praful Patel initiated talks with Congress leaders in Delhi over the past six weeks. Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, too, was reportedly in favour of the alliance. But the state leadership, especially CM Prithviraj Chavan, reportedly convinced the Congress high command that the NCP’s approach was to weaken the Congress in the state. The state leadership also told its leaders in Delhi that the NCP was likely to field rebels against Congress candidates.
A section of the Congress leadership also believed the NCP was determined to go at it alone from the beginning and that was the reason it conducted candidate interviews for all 288 constituencies in the last week of August. The NCP’s demand of the chief ministership for two-and-a-half years could also have been a pre-determined decision.
On the other hand, the NCP leadership was hurt by Chavan’s determination to corner its leaders by digging up corruption cases against them. The NCP leadership believed that by going solo, the party can attack the Congress openly and convince voters about its side of the story.
With the split from the Congress, the NCP is now likely to join hands with smaller ‘like-minded’ parties, including the Samajwadi Party (SP), factions of the Republican Party of India or the Peasants And Workers party (PWP). PWP has a stronghold in Raigad, which may prove beneficial to the NCP.
The NCP has already inducted 11 sitting MLAs that are either from the smaller parties or are independent. They are strong in their respective constituencies and may help in adding to the final tally of the party. Political observers, the NCP will not hesitate to partner with the BJP after the election citing its act of supporting the BJP in Parliament during a debate over two bills.