‘Take a call on alliance by end of the month’, Prakash Ambedkar tells Congress
Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar has given the Congress time till August-end to seal an alliance with his outfit. In a clear indication that he doesn’t want to forge an alliance with the Congress, Ambedkar has said the VBA will leave 40 out of 288 seats for the former as it is now a “weakened force”.
Ambedkar said the VBA will release its first list of candidates in August-end, after which an alliance would not be possible. “Once we declare the candidates, we will not withdraw them. Hence, the Congress needs to decide the alliance within this month,” said Ambedkar.
The Congress has been trying to forge an alliance with the VBA ahead of the upcoming Assembly elections. The Opposition has also accused the VBA of working in tandem with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to split anti-BJP votes in the Lok Sabha (LS) elections because at least half a dozen Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidates lost the polls as VBA candidates ate into their votes.
Ambedkar has also set a pre-condition for the Congress stating he will start talks only after the party clarifies whether it still considers VBA as the “B team of the BJP”. “We can’t start talks till this matter is resolved as the Congress has repeatedly accused us of being the B team of the BJP,” said Ambedkar, adding the VBA will leave 40 of the 288 Assembly seats for the Congress party as it is now a “weakened force”, while the outfit was a “rising” one.
The Congress has responded saying the VBA can prove it was not a “B team of the BJP” by forging an alliance with them. “The people of Maharashtra, after seeing the LS results, felt that the VBA was the B team of the BJP. Now is the best chance for Prakash Ambedkar to tie up with the Congress and come clean on this issue,” said Maharashtra Congress spokesperson Sachin Sawant.
After the LS results, the newly elected president of Maharashtra Congress, Balasaheb Thorat, had written a letter to Ambedkar stressing on the need for progressive secular forces to join hands to defeat the communal BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. Thorat had pointed that the recent results had shown how the splitting of votes by the VBA had ensured the BJP-Sena alliance’s win, and hence, the outfit must join the secular brigade. However, Ambedkar on Thursday stressed that the ball was in the Congress’s court.
The situation appears to be similar to the one before the LS polls, wherein Ambedkar had been playing hardball with the Congress as he first demanded 12 seats for the VBA, which the Congress denied. In the final stages of talks, Ambedkar had abruptly increased his demand to 22 seats, including some like Baramati, a stronghold of NCP chief Sharad Pawar and currently represented by his daughter Supriya Sule.
The VBA did not ally with the Congress, but tied up with the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). The VBA-AIMIM alliance was able to poll 41.08 lakh votes in the state, bringing its tally to 7.63 % of the total votes polled in the state.
The AIMIM was able to win the Aurangabad LS seat in a four-cornered fight as its candidate Imtiyaz Jaleel defeated Sena stalwart Chandrakant Khaire. The VBA showed its strength as it ensured the defeat of two former chief ministers — Ashok Chavan and Sushilkumar Shinde.