Congress-NCP buoyant, Shiv Sena-BJP downcast as poll dates declared

Mumbai, Aug 31 ( Buoyed by the victory in the recent Lok Sabha elections, the ruling Congress-Nationalist Congress Party alliance in Maharashtra is confident of taking on the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party (SS-BJP) combine in the Oct 13 assembly elections.

In sharp contrast, discontent prevails in the SS-BJP camp as poll dates were announced Monday.

However, the ruling Democratic Front (DF) alliance is wary of the newly-united Third Front and Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).

While the Sena and BJP have finalised their poll alliance, the many small parties also have cobbled up a Third Front. But the MNS’ strategy is still unclear – whether it will go alone or support the ruling DF or the saffron alliance.

Though the Congress and NCP have been dilly-dallying over their plans to contest the polls jointly, Chief Minister Ashok Chavan dispelled speculation of any discord when he told mediapersons Saturday: “We are confident of working out an alliance with the NCP very soon.”

In sharp contrast to the enthusiasm in the DF, which is hoping to secure a third consecutive term, is the atmosphere of gloom in the BJP that is currently in the midst of a severe leadership crisis at the national level.

Highlighting the discontent in the BJP, Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, in a scathing editorial in party mouthpiece Saamna Monday remarked that “the BJP is suffering from the deadly swine flu”, and like Emperor Akbar’s parrot it is a dead party “but no one has the courage to point it out.”

The Third Front, in which around 15 Republican parties and factions have joined along with the workers, farmers and other groups has decided to contest all the 288 seats in the state, as also the MNS.

In the last elections in 2004, the DF had bagged 139 seats against the SS-BJP’s 119.

The NCP had emerged as the single largest group with 71 legislators, followed by Congress with 69, the Sena got 62 while BJP got 56, while Independents and other parties won 30 seats (total 288).

The DF tally, however, came down from 151 in the 1999 elections, as also did the SS-BJP’s tally which slipped to 119 from 136 earlier when it had gone to polls as the ruling party. The SS-BJP ruled the state between 1995-1999.

However, while in 1999 only one seat went to a non-allied party, in the 2004 polls as many as 30 candidates won as Independents or representing smaller parties.

The rumblings at the top level of the BJP notwithstanding, it has quietly worked out an understanding to contest the elections with the Shiv Sena.

The BJP expects to get two more seats in its kitty this time, and the SS has reportedly agreed to this, sources said.

In the 2004 assembly elections, the SS-BJP alliance had allotted seven seats to Sharad Joshi’s Shetkari Sanghatana. While Sena conceded four seats from its share, the BJP parted with three seats.

During the last election, a sitting Congress MLA had joined the Sena and lost the election from the BJP-allotted Chandwad constituency.

The BJP has now demanded that Chandwad should be given for its candidate.

It has also demanded that one of the three seats it had conceded to the Shetkari Sanghatana should be returned too. This will raise its tally to 119.

A BJP state leader said that consensus has been reached on these issues and finishing touches are being given to wrap up the alliance before an official announcement in a day or so.

“This will ensure commitment to each other on the part of both the parties and give much-needed headway to the campaigning process, especially at the grassroots levels,” said Vinod Tawade, state BJP secretary.