Mumbai: The Congress in Maharashtra has come under pressure to join hands with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and other parties opposed to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) after being left out of the alliance between the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) announced in Uttar Pradesh last week.

Congress and NCP leaders in Maharashtra said the two parties are close to clinching a “mutually acceptable" seat-sharing formula for the Lok Sabha elections but added that efforts to draft other anti-BJP parties into the fold have not met with success so far.

“The mahagathbandhan of all anti-BJP parties except Shiv Sena has not come about yet, though we (Congress-NCP) are very close to striking a deal. We are trying to bring on board other parties but there has not been substantial progress on that," a senior Congress leader admitted, requesting anonymity.

One of the reasons that the Congress and the NCP had not yet formalized their alliance was the delay in roping in other parties, said the leader quoted above. “We need to factor in the seats we have to set aside for the smaller parties. In the past, whenever the Congress and the NCP fought elections together, each of us accommodated allies in our share of seats. However, as of now, there is no third party in the alliance though prospective allies would obviously want to contest some seats," said the Congress leader.

Congress-NCP alliance discussions have been led by NCP president Sharad Pawar and his Congress counterpart Rahul Gandhi. Though no other party has so far joined these talks, Hatkanangle member of Parliament Raju Shetti of the Swabhimani Paksha is likely to be accommodated. The Left, the BSP, and the SP, which have significant presence in some pockets, have stayed away from these talks.

The Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) of Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar has formed an alliance with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen Party (AIMIM) for the Lok Sabha elections. Ambedkar has blamed the Congress for not making any effort to accommodate his party in the anti-BJP alliance, but the Congress leader quoted above said Ambedkar was demanding 12 seats, which he said “was too unreasonable an expectation".

“He is clearly punching above his weight. Also, he has already formed alliance with the MIM, which we don’t want to have any tie-up with," the Congress leader said. He, however, conceded that the BBM-MIM alliance could affect the prospects of the Congress and the NCP in Marathwada, Vidarbha, and some Mumbai constituencies.

In Uttar Pradesh, the BSP and SP have agreed to contest 38 seats each, leaving the two seats of Amethi and Rae Bareli for the Congress. However, there is no formal alliance with Congress, which has decided to contest all 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh. The BSP-SP alliance has put pressure on the Congress in Maharashtra as the NCP is likely to exploit this seat-sharing formula to extract a better deal from the Congress.

The NCP was negotiating hard for an equal number of seats even before the BSP and the SP announced their alliance, the Congress leader said. “NCP wants to contest 24 seats out of 48 in Maharashtra. It is negotiating hard and the way we have been left out in Uttar Pradesh has put us in a weak position in Maharashtra," admitted the Congress leader.

The NCP was “reasonable" in demanding 24 seats, said a party leader who did not want to be named. “We won four seats in 2014 and the Congress won only two. We won nearly equal number of seats in the 2014 assembly elections (Congress won 42 and NCP 41). We have fared well and better than Congress in some regions in the local elections," the NCP leader said.

In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, the NCP contested 21 seats and the Congress 26. The alliance partners had left the Akola seat for Prakash Ambedkar.

The Congress leader quoted above said the pressure was more on the Congress to put together an anti-BJP alliance. “Unlike in Uttar Pradesh, where we are a marginal player, we are on a strong footing in Maharashtra and we can ill-afford a split in the anti-BJP votes," said the Congress leader.

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