With only six days left to start filing nominations for the Lok Sabha elections, both the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena and Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliances in Maharashtra are facing trouble accommodating smaller allies who have threatened to contest on their own if they are not given enough seats.
The situation is worse for the Congress-NCP combine, hit by defections to the BJP and disheartened by veteran NCP boss Sharad Pawar’s decision not to contest the elections. Nominations for 48 Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra are to be filed from 18 to 25 March. The first of the four- phase election in Maharashtra is on 11 April when seven seats go to polls.
On Tuesday, Prakash Ambedkar, president of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM), said at a press conference, “All proposals for alliance and seat-sharing talks with the Congress are over" and set a deadline of 15 March for the Congress to take a final decision over forming a grand alliance against the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Ambedkar also declared that the Vanchit Bahujan Aaghadi that he had formed with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) would announce its candidates for all 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra on 15 March if the Congress failed to respond. Ambedkar, grandson of B.R Ambedkar, has demanded 22 seats from the Congress-NCP combine, a proposal which he said the Congress had rejected. “There is no question of scaling down our demand for 22 seats because we have already announced those seats. Since the Congress has rejected that, the deadline for declaring a grand alliance with Congress is over," he said.
What could be more ominous for the Congress is that Ambedkar himself plans to contest from Solapur, the Lok Sabha seat from where senior Congress leader and former Maharashtra chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is likely to seek election. In 2014, Shinde suffered a shock defeat from the BJP’s Sharad Bansode by nearly 150,000 votes. Solapur is a Scheduled Caste (SC)-reserved constituency and a possible split in the SC could help the NDA nominee.
In a similar worrying sign for the Congress-NCP, the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) of Raju Shetty, a member of Parliament from western Maharashtra who parted ways with the NDA in 2018, declared on Tuesday that if the Congress-NCP did not set aside three constituencies for the SSS by Wednesday, it would name candidates for 15 constituencies. “I split away from the NDA on the farmers’ issues and to defeat Modi-Fadnavis. If Congress-NCP are not ready to accommodate us, we will contest 15 seats," Shetty said.
The NDA has its own share of problems. Mahadev Jankar, a minister and president of Rashtriya Samaj Paksha (RSP), on Monday hit out at the BJP-Shiv Sena for not accommodating smaller parties of the NDA. Jankar fought Sharad Pawar’s daughter Supriya Sule from Baramati in 2014 and is the leader of the Dhangar community which has been demanding reservation. Jankar said the RSP may even think of forming a Fourth Front in Maharashtra along with SSS if it was not accommodated.
The BJP-Shiv Sena has also failed to accommodate another NDA ally, Republic Party of India (Athawale), whose president Ramdas Athawale is a Union minister of state.