NCP’s ‘50% challenge’ for Congress

After the rout in 2014 elections, both the parties realised they need to join hands, as their voter base is largely the same

mumbai Updated: Sep 03, 2018 23:19 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Lok Sabha,elections
Addressing selected leaders at the party’s brainstorming meeting last week, NCP chief Sharad Pawar informed his colleagues that the party would prefer equal number of seats in alliance with the Congress. (HT File Photo)

The new-found bonhomie between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) just got a reality check.

Addressing selected leaders at the party’s brainstorming meeting last week, NCP chief Sharad Pawar informed his colleagues that the party would prefer equal number of seats in alliance with the Congress.

The NCP leaders were told that Pawar has conveyed his message to the Congress leadership and the two parties have also decided to form a committee comprising senior Congress leader Ashok Gehlot, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC) chief Ashok Chavan, senior NCP leader Praful Patel and the party’s state unit chief Jayant Patil to work out details.

The very next day, Maharashtra Congress denied it had received any proposal for 50:50 seat-sharing formula. The instance shows the unease between the two parties that parted ways in 2014 after collectively running governments in the state for 15 years, and are now reuniting to counter the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

After the rout in 2014 elections, both the parties realised they need to join hands, as their voter base is largely the same. Still, their reunion is unlikely to be without the competition and one-upmanship that was characteristic of their alliance from 1999 to 2014. And no matter what the Congress leaders think, the NCP probably has a case to demand equal number of seats in seat-sharing for elections if it is based on performance of the two parties in 2014 elections.

Amid the Modi wave in the last Lok Sabha elections, when the Congress could win only two seats, the NCP won four in Maharashtra. In assembly polls held six months later, the Congress won 42 while the NCP 41.

As such, the Congress will find it difficult to argue with the NCP over its demand for equal seat distribution.

Moreover, two Congress’ MLAs — Nitesh Rane and Kalidas Kolambkar — owe their allegiance to former chief minister Narayan Rane and may follow their leader to collaborate with the BJP.

In that case, the Congress’ tally in the assembly will reduce to 40.

But then, a lot depends on how the senior leadership from both the parties handle the issue.

“If they make some adjustment in the larger interest of broad alliance against the BJP, things could be sorted out,” says a senior NCP leader.

For instance, the 48 Lok Sabha seats may not be divided equally between the two parties.

“We will have to leave 4 to 5 seats for allies such as BSP, Raju Shetti’s Swabhimani Paksh, Prakash Ambedkar and Peasants and Workers Party, who are likely to be part of our coalition. The remaining seats will be divided between us on the basis of our elective merit and past results. Besides, we can achieve more if our success rate is better with less number of seats,” he added.

The same formula could be applied for sharing of assembly seats, he adds.

The Congress leaders from Maharashtra are divided over how to handle the NCP.

One section is wary of Pawar’s motives and says the NCP may ditch the Congress just before the elections. This section points out how Pawar shares cordial relations with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several other BJP leaders. He had also supported Modi government on several issues in the Parliament. The BJP is keen that regional parties like NCP should form a third front which could take away a significant chunk of seats from Congress, it says.

The other section is citing the bonhomie between the Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Pawar. It says the alliance is inevitable.

“If we want to defeat the BJP, we will have to trust some people. Looking at the big picture, we need to concede some ground,” says a top Congress leader.

Significantly, none of the two parties are now talking about going solo as they did before 2014 elections.

They have realised that in the fractured voter base in Maharashtra between four prominent parties — BJP, Congress, Shiv Sena and NCP-- they will have to stick together to remain in the contest. It’s another story that they both will remain wary of the other partner from becoming Big Brother.

First Published: Sep 03, 2018 23:19 IST