Following the outcome of the Bihar elections, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has extended an olive branch to the Congress for the upcoming elections in the legislative council and dozens of civic bodies over the next year-and-a-half. Both the parties are positive about forging the alliance again and a crucial meeting is expected next week. The two parties ruled the state together for 15 years before snapping ties ahead of the 2014 Assembly elections.
The decision to reunite with the Congress for the legislative council elections as well as the civic polls came in a meeting of key party leaders and elected representatives called by Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Monday. The move is seen as a fallout of the Bihar Assembly elections in which the Janata Dal (U)-RJD-Congress coalition trounced the BJP-led front.
A party leader said Pawar has directed the NCP’s state leadership to understand the changed dynamics of Indian politics and join hands with the traditional partners.
“The Congress was with the Janata Dal (U) and Rashtriya Janata Dal as junior partners as part of the Mahagathbandhan. The NCP has the same strength as the Congress in Maharashtra at the state and the local level. We think both parties need each other,” said Sunil Tatkare, NCP’s state unit chief. The move is also significant considering the fact that the NCP was providing a cushion to the ruling BJP, which failed to secure a majority in the Assembly on its own. The BJP has 122 members — short by 23 for a simple majority. Before it reunited with the Shiv Sena to form a stable government, it was the NCP that provided outside support to the government. However, things have changed in the past few months with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis preferring the Sena over ‘tainted’ NCP and his government cracking down on several cases of irregularities involving NCP ministers in the previous government. The NCP leadership on the other hand, is of the opinion that the incumbent government is becoming unpopular over the way it has been handling issues such as drought in the state and inflation. It forged an alliance with the Congress to win the civic polls in Kolhapur. Following the Bihar elections, it is now slowly inching towards reuniting with the Congress.
Significantly, the NCP’s decision came on the day the Congress-NCP alliance won the mayoral election in the Kolhapur civic body by a majority. Next is the biennial election for eight seats of the legislative council scheduled next month. Seven of these seats can be bagged by the two parties if they join hands. This could lead to further trouble for the ruling BJP as the opposition has a majority in the Upper House of the state legislature.
“Two of the seats are to be elected from the corporators of the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), while seven are to be elected from other civic bodies controlled mostly by the Congress and the NCP. Except one seat to be elected from the BMC, the Congress and the NCP have a sufficient number of the corporators to elect the rest of the seats, if fought together. Apart from the eight seats, thirty more seats are falling vacant next year. Pawar has directed the state leadership to work in that direction in next few days,” said a key leader of NCP.
The NCP has proposed to Congress to support each other to fight for their existing seats. The Congress and the NCP have 4 and 2 sitting legislators respectively, who will all retire by the end of next month. The NCP has also demanded Congress’s support for the seventh seat to be fought from the civic bodies of Buldhana-Washim-Akola.
“Though we had a preliminary meeting with the NCP and are positive about the alliance, we have reservations about the seat to be elected from Buldhana-Washim-Akola civic bodies. We also are interested in fielding candidates from these bodies because we have a similar number of corporators,” said a Congress leader, on the condition of anonymity. Besides the discussion over the outcome of the Bihar assembly elections, party leaders were also directed to review the ground reality in the drought-affected areas of Marathwada so that the party can grill the government over the same in the winter session of the state legislature scheduled to be held in Nagpur from December 7. “Responding to a letter written by Pawar, chief minister Devendra Fadnavis mentioned various measures taken by the government to fight the drought. Pawar is of the opinion that contrary to the government’s claims, the farmers have received little help from the government. By collecting the reports from the ground level, we will expose the government on this front,” said another party leader.
Meanwhile, Congress candidate Ashwini Ramane was elected mayor of the Kolhapur municipal corporation by defeating BJP candidate Savita Bhalkar by 11 votes. The NCP’s 15 corporators supported the Congress candidate to regain power in the 81-member civic body. On the other hand, the Sena’s four corporators abstained.