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Sharad Pawar sets tone, but alliance not a done deal yet

In an interview of him by MNS chief Raj Thackeray, Pawar showed he was keen to join hands with Congress again

mumbai Updated: Feb 27, 2018 00:51 IST
Shailesh Gaikwad
Shailesh Gaikwad
Hindustan Times
Mumbai,Sharad Pawar,NCP
In the interview, Pawar said only the Congress is in a position to take on the BJP in the next general elections. (HT FILE )

With the talk of general elections and simultaneous polls for Lok Sabha and assembly doing the rounds, the guessing games over the possibility of alliances too have started.

The tone is set by none other than the big daddy of Maharashtra politics, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar. The NCP chief chose an interview of him by Maharashtra Navnirman Sena chief Raj Thackeray at a public function in Pune last Wednesday to put in it the public domain that he was keen to join hands with the Congress again.

In the interview, Pawar said only the Congress is in a position to take on the BJP in next general elections. He also said Congress president Rahul Gandhi has shown willingness to learn and understand various issues. Pawar predicted better days for the Congress if its new head continued to do the same.

He also criticised Prime Minister Narendra Modi over a range of issues. Significantly, Pawar was earlier skeptical about Rahul’s leadership qualities. His remarks come even as the Congress and the NCP leaders have initiated talks for a reunion in Maharashtra for the coming elections.

A majority of Congress-NCP leaders in the state are in favour of the alliance between the two parties that share the same voter base. Contesting separately was one of the reasons the two parties lost assembly elections in 2014, they think.

The general opinion in both the camps is something like this: When everything was going wrong, the two parties contested separately and could win 83 seats between them (Congress 42, NCP: 41). It was their worst performance since 1999 and they are unlikely to go below that. In fact, with changing mood among the people, they would win more.

The alliance itself will prevent division of their votes and would bring 25-30 seats to their kitty.

Since, there is no Modi wave this time, winning 130 to 140 seats together and wresting power from the BJP-Sena won’t be difficult, especially in a situation when the BJP and the Sena likely to contest separately, they say. While the Congress and NCP leaders are thinking on these lines, there is division within the BJP and Shiv Sena over the same issue.

Though the two parties parted ways ahead of 2014 assembly elections over the issue of sharing the seats, they came together to run the government in the state.

A section in the BJP is of the opinion that the party should get the Sena back for a pre-poll alliance. With the Sena leadership announcing its decision to go solo and the party continuing its tirade against the BJP, this could be a difficult task for the leaders from both the sides.

BJP insiders say chief minister Devendra Fadnavis is keen to work out things with the Sena. His personal equations with Uddhav Thackeray are excellent and he is confident of working out a deal acceptable to both the sides.

However, he can make any move in this direction only if the party leadership gives him a go-ahead, say his close aides. In the Sena camp, leaders point fingers at the party leadership though some of them feel that the two ruling partners would do well if work out a tie-up ahead of the polls.

Meanwhile, the BJP strategists are already on the job assuming that the BJP will contest the next assembly elections on its own. They are looking at 150 to 160 seats in urban and semi-urban areas where they think they have an edge over the Opposition.

This was something that helped the BJP in Gujarat. Significantly, it did well in civic polls across the state last year.

Though they are anticipating some problem in the rural areas, party strategists are expecting dividends as the benefits of farm loan waiver reach farmers.Besides, the Congress-NCP alliance is not a done deal, the BJP insiders point out.

Interestingly, there is unease in the Congress over the same.

Several among the party top brass are wary of Pawar’s intentions. There is still bonhomie between Pawar and the top brass of the BJP, they point out. “Pawar is still not trustworthy. He may ditch us at the eleventh hour to form a third front which would actually benefit the BJP in polls,” said a top Congress leader from the state.

Well, the alliance games are just beginning.

First Published: Feb 27, 2018 00:45 IST