By Vivek Bhavsar
Twitter: @Vivek Bhavsar
Mumbai: While it is premature to predict the possible seat-sharing formula between Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) for the 2024 Lok Sabha elections, the high-voltage resignation drama of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar may offer some clues.
Sharad Pawar’s startling announcement on May 2 that he was stepping down triggered shock, despair and ire amongst the NCP cadres, giving hints to his refractory nephew Ajit Pawar and the BJP that it was the 82-year-old patriarch who still called the shots within the NCP.
As the resignation drama ended with Pawar senior taking back his resignation after three days, his MVA allies – the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena (UBT) and the Congress, who had grown jittery, heaved a sigh of relief.
But Pawar’s resignation theatrics was not just intended for the ‘separatist’ elements within his party (read his nephew Ajit Pawar) and the ruling BJP, but was a coded signal to his MVA partners as well.
The NCP chief has demonstrated that it is his party that will have an upper hand during the seat-sharing negotiations.
A week before this resignation episode occurred, it was principally agreed that the seat-sharing formula between the MVA will be 18-18 and 12 among NCP, Uddhav Sena, and the Congress respectively, claimed sources from NCP and Congress.
In the drama which went on for three days within the NCP, Pawar has not only given the cue to the party workers that he will remain the president of the party but that after him, Supriya Sule will be his political successor and not Ajit Pawar.
The NCP cadre are inclined towards Supriya rather than Ajit Pawar. It is also a hint to Ajit that even if he attempts to break the party like Eknath Shinde did last year, not many from the NCP will go with him to the BJP.
Through this drama, Pawar has also conveyed a warning to the BJP that if they are planning to break the NCP by using Ajit Pawar, it will be a big blunder for them. In this way, Pawar has shut down the doors for Ajit Pawar from evolving as the immediate leader of the party and from perhaps splitting the party to join BJP.
An NCP insider claimed that senior Pawar had destroyed Ajit’s ‘credibility’ within and outside the party.
Pawar has also established that only he is the boss of the NCP and in the MVA, his word will be the last while taking any decisions. Recently Pawar said that the fate of the MVA is not yet resolved and no dialogues about seat sharing have been consulted among the MVA leaders. It was obvious that the seat-sharing formula for the Lok Sabha elections was not discussed till that moment.
NCP sources said that after Pawar’s opinion about the uncertainty of MVA, the leaders of the alliance met him, and a preliminary dialogue about the seat-sharing formula was discussed between them. The sources further divulged that NCP and Thackeray-led Shivsena will contest 18 seats each whereas Congress will field 12 constituencies in the 2024 Lok Sabha elections.
In the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Uddhav Thackeray led Shiv Sena and BJP had a coalition and Shiv Sena contested 22 seats, of which they conquered 18 seats. After a rebellion by Eknath Shinde in the Shiv Sena, five MPs stayed with Uddhav Thackeray 13 MPs tied up the Shinde camp.
NCP has 4 MPs in Lok Sabha whereas Congress has only one MP. After a split in the party, Uddhav would have lost its strength and numbers in the party. That is why Pawar wishes to negotiate in such a tone that NCP will have the upper hand in the seat sharing formula.
According to political analysts, the undercurrent demonstrates that BJP is on the back foot after playing a role to break in Shiv Sena from behind the door. Turmoil among the populace will be contemplated at the time of the ballot and the outcome may go against the BJP. The result of recently held polls to elect a member of the Upper House from the Teachers and the Graduate constituencies as well as the by-election in Brahmin-dominated Kasba Peth Vidhan Sabha constituency in Pune district has ascertained that the masses are with Maha Vikas Aghadi, either way, they may be with Congress, NCP or Uddhav Sena, the voters had refuted the BJP and Shinde Sena.
Even the recently held elections for the Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMCs), which represent the farmers and traders from the village level have illustrated that MVA still has a stronghold in rural Maharashtra.
MVA leaders including Sharad Pawar, Ajit Pawar, and Nana Patole have expressed the belief that the next government will be of MVA. Ajit Pawar, while addressing the Vajra Muth Rally at Chhatrapati Sambhaji Nagar, had said that MVA leaders must keep aside their egos, and move back two steps if they ought to keep MVA intact to defeat BJP in the next elections. His indications were also towards the seat-sharing formula and he had suggested that if Congress and Uddhav Sena get fewer seats, they must abide by it.
Ajit Pawar being Finance Minister in the Uddhav Thackeray-led MVA government between 2019 to 2022, had nurtured most of the Assembly constituency in such a manner that NCP can succeed in 100 seats. If the MVA government would have completed its tenure, NCP could manage to gain a victory in more than 100 seats in the 2024 Assembly elections. Even today, the circumstances are very optimistic for NCP and if the MVA government comes to power after the Assembly elections, the Chief Minister will be of NCP.
Senior Pawar figures out the bright future of the MVA and if the party insider is to be believed, Pawar’s game was to regulate the party, keeping Ajit aside, and warn the BJP not to try out to split NCP like how they did with Thackeray’s Shiv Sena.
Prior to the general election, the long-pending polls for the municipal corporations including the critical Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) are anticipated to be held after the Diwali vacations.
The sources from the BJP claim that the internal survey of the BJP sounds that the party will not triumph over more than 90 in the 227-seated BMC. There are prospects that the Uddhav Sena under the umbrella of MVA will regain power in the BMC. That is why BJP is delaying the elections of Municipal Corporations.
After Uddhav regains the power in BMC, the negotiation power of the NCP will come down and Uddhav Sena may get more seats to field in the Lok Sabha as well as in the state assembly elections. As of political circumstances today, the formula will be 18 -18 -12 or 20-20 and 8 between NCP, Shiv Sena, and Congress respectively, the sources claimed.