NCP president Sharad Pawar. HT
NCP president Sharad Pawar. HT

Sharad Pawar sees simultaneous polls in Maharashtra

Pawar said simultaneous polls to LS and state assembly could come as early as February-March next year

Mumbai: Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar has told his party to prepare for elections ahead of schedule, saying simultaneous polls to the Lok Sabha and Maharashtra assembly could come as early as February or March next year.

Elections to the Maharashtra assembly are due around October 2019 and the general elections a few months before that around May. However, Pawar told party leaders at a meeting in Mumbai on Monday that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government at the centre was in favour of simultaneous elections and could advance the Maharashtra polls, according to local NCP leaders.

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik told Mint that Pawar had informed party leaders at the meeting that the central government had given enough hints that it could hold simultaneous elections. “The way the BJP is going ahead on this issue, Pawar saheb thinks that simultaneous polls are likely. He has asked the party to get ready for the polls," Malik said.

Pawar, who has been leading the move for an anti-BJP pre-poll alliance among like-minded parties, said he was “happy" that Congress president Rahul Gandhi had opted out of the race for the prime minister’s post.

Although Gandhi has not specifically ruled himself out of the race, the NCP leader was referring to the Congress president’s statement in London this week where he said he did not harbour such “visions."

Pawar said the first target of all like-minded parties should be to defeat the BJP in the elections and that the leader of the party with the highest number of seats should stake claim to the prime minister’s post.

Another NCP leader, who did not want to be named, said Pawar was in favour of a Maharashtra-level alliance with the Congress and a 50:50 seat-sharing formula. “The Congress and NCP have equal strength in Maharashtra and should fight an equal number of seats," this NCP leader said.

The Congress has 42 members in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly and the NCP has 41. The NCP has four members in the Lok Sabha from the state to the Congress’ two. The two parties fought the 2014 Lok Sabha elections together but split before the assembly elections held later that year.

Malik said Pawar has deputed senior party leader and Rajya Sabha MP Praful Patel and state NCP chief Jayant Patil to hold alliance talks with Congress. From the Congress party, senior leader Ashok Gehlot and state unit president Ashok Chavan would hold the talks.