Will Pawar help Sonia Gandhi clear her first election challenge as Interim President?
Both the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena have hit the ground running as far as campaigning is concerned. In contrast, both the Congress and the NCP are struggling to keep their respective houses in order.
On Tuesday noon when Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) supremo Sharad Pawar went to meet Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi at her residence, everyone knew that it was about the final sealing of the seat-sharing formula for the upcoming assembly elections in Maharashtra to avert a 2014-like situation. The question that now remains is whether the NCP-Congress combination will be able to trump the formidable BJP and Sena alliance to avert their comeback.
As interim Congress president, Sonia Gandhi will be faced with the first litmus test of leadership after her return at the helm of affairs in the party. Elections to Haryana, Maharashtra and Jharkhand are slated to be held later this year. The show of unity and joint preparation of elections between Congress and NCP has also been necessitated because in the last couple of months state-level leaders from both NCP and Congress have quit to join the BJP.
A victory for the NCP-Congress alliance in Maharashtra polls is crucial not just for Sonia Gandhi but also for Sharad Pawar, who is fighting to keep his flock united towards the fag-end of his career. Pawar, the Maratha strongman, quit Congress in 1999 to form NCP on the question of Sonia Gandhi being projected as the Prime Ministerial candidate of the Congress Party for the Lok Sabha polls.
The contrast between the Congress-led alliance and the BJP-led alliance in Maharashtra is stark and seemingly one-sided before the poll announcement. Both the BJP and its ally Shiv Sena have hit the ground running as far as campaigning is concerned. In contrast, both the Congress and the NCP are struggling to keep their respective houses in order. The Congress campaign in Maharashtra is spearheaded by the BJP-turned Congressman Nana Patole. A former MP, Patole is leading a 'Pol Khol Yatra' to enthuse the cadre, but the initiative is already finding a cold response from other senior Maharashtra Congress leaders like Prithviraj Chavan, Vijay Wadettiwar, Balasaheb Thorat, and their camp followers.
While the Congress has been successful in finally renewing ties with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, as it was evident with the 10, Janpath meeting in Delhi today, it seems the NCP-Congress will not be able to tie up with Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena or the pro-Dalit formations which mushroomed during the Lok Sabha polls. However, media reports have also suggested that the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have finalised their shares on 215 seats only. The remaining 73 seats have been set aside for any last-minute accommodation of MNS, Prakash Ambedkar's Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) and Peasants and Workers Party (PWP). The chances of taking Asaiddun Owaisi-led AIMM on board this formation has also not been ruled out.
“We held our parliamentary board meeting in Pune and 104 seats have been cleared by the Congress party. We have decided our candidates on many of the seats. A panel will be formed for clearing the candidates for the remaining seats. The panel will sit together and finalise the candidates,” NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik had said on Friday while briefing the media on an internal party meeting.
In 2014, the Congress and the NCP had failed to stitch up an alliance before the polls; at the time the Congress won 42 seats and the NCP won 41 seats. The contours of the 2019 assembly polls are yet to be clear. However, a lot would depend on the capacity of both Sonia Gandhi and Pawar to convince their local leadership to accommodate smaller parties in order to form an umbrella opposition against the charged up BJP and Shiv Sena.