Maharashtra council bypoll: BJP aims 200-plus votes, Congress-NCP work to prevent cross-voting
Mumbai: Members of the Maharashtra legislative assembly, the lower house of Maharashtra’s bicameral legislature, will vote on Thursday in a bypoll for a single seat in the legislative council, the upper house. The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has fielded its state unit vice-president Prasad Lad and ally Shiv Sena has assured the BJP of its support. The opposition Congress has nominated Dilip Mane for the bypoll and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has supported his candidature.
In the 288-member legislative assembly, the BJP has 122 legislators and it has support of 13 legislators among the independents and smaller parties. The Shiv Sena has 63 members. The Congress and NCP have 42 and 41 members respectively.
On paper, the BJP is assured of a comfortable victory of its nominee. However, since secret ballot will used in this bypoll, the BJP, in particular chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, is pulling all stops to ensure that Lad gets more than 200 votes.
“Since the victory is assured, we are trying to see if we could ensure cross-voting by some Congress and NCP legislators. We are eyeing 10 to 12 extra votes that would take Lad’s total tally to 210,” said a state BJP functionary and legislator himself, requesting anonymity.
Lad, a businessman who has declared assets worth Rs210 crore in his election affidavit, left the NCP to join the BJP in April 2016. He was promptly made the BJP state unit vice-president and has gained proximity to Fadnavis in a short time. In the February 2017 civic elections in Mumbai, Lad was instrumental in putting the BJP in a fighting position vis-a-vis the Shiv Sena.
The state BJP functionary quoted above said the party had fielded Lad, an NCP import, and not a party loyalist, looking at the next general and assembly elections. “It is highly unlikely that we will fight the next round of elections in alliance with Shiv Sena. In a situation where we are fighting against the Shiv Sena in Mumbai, we have to identity strong candidates and Lad is being considered for one of the Mumbai seats,” said the BJP legislator.
The Congress and NCP are worried about cross-voting especially after the Presidential poll in July this year which saw the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) nominee Ram Nath Kovind getting at least nine extra votes from the Congress and NCP. While Kovind got 208 votes, the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance nominee Meira Kumar got 77, six less than the Congress-NCP tally in the assembly.
A state Congress functionary and legislator said the party was worried more about cross-voting from the NCP. “During the presidential poll, we had legislators who we knew would cross-vote. This time, we suspect cross-voting from the NCP,” said the Congress functionary, requesting anonymity.
In the 78-member Maharashtra legislative council, the NCP has 23 seats followed by Congress at 19. The BJP has 17 and the Shiv Sena 9. On several occasions during the three-year rule of the Fadnavis government, the Congress and NCP have exploited their majority in the upper house to stall key bills.