BJP, MVA to face off again for 10 council seats

After the Rajya Sabha elections, there will be another showdown between the ruling Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi (MVA) and the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

There are 11 candidates vying for the 10 legislative council seats, even after two candidates – former minister and farmer leader Sadabhau Khot, who was supported by the BJP, and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate Shivajirao Garje – pulled out of the race on Monday.

The last day to withdraw nominations for the June 20 election was Monday.

The BJP has 106 MLAs in the 288-member house, followed by the Shiv Sena (56), the NCP (53), and the Congress (44), with the rest being smaller parties and Independents. In order to get elected as a member of legislative council, a candidate will need around 27 votes. The BJP won three of the six seats in the Rajya Sabha polls on June 10 while a Sena candidate lost. BJP won 17 out of 29 smaller parties’ and independents’ MLAs, while MVA received 12.

On Monday, senior leaders of the MVA met in a huddle.

Sharad Pawar, chief of the NCP, met with core committee leaders of the party to discuss the outcome of the Rajya Sabha elections in which Sena candidate Sanjay Pawar lost. An NCP leader, wishing not to be named, said the NCP chief discussed the poll results to find out what went wrong. “We played our part and we are not at fault,” he said.

“Not a single vote from the NCP or any other parties was transferred to BJP. Senior NCP ministers, who cast their votes towards the end of polling, also voted for Sanjay Pawar and thus the NCP cannot be blamed for this defeat. As far as Independent MLAs are concerned Sena was directly dealing with them,” a minister from the NCP said.

The two camps are trying to tap into the latent discontent in each other’s ranks.

“The real game begins now. the Rajya Sabha elections revealed the discontent in the MVA camp, and now, legislators will give vent to it through secret ballot,” an Independent MLA, who is with BJP, said. “The question is who will lose; Sena, Congress, or NCP? However, on paper, Congress, which lacks the numbers to get its second candidate elected, is in trouble,” the legislator, on condition of anonymity, said.

The MLA claimed there was a sense of drift in the government. “There is no sense of ownership and there are problems with chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s accessibility. There is a fratricidal war under way in districts between leaders and workers of the three parties. All this will find expression in the polls.”

“All is not well in BJP but the MVA must be able to tap into this. BJP seems to be overconfident. Even their MLAs are restive at party loyalists being neglected in favour of newer entrants. The dominance of [leader of opposition] Devendra Fadnavis in the party has also led to disgruntlement. At the district level, there is massive infighting within the rank and file, which may lead to some BJP legislators voting in our favour,” a Congress minister, who refused to come on record, said.

For the legislative council polls, BJP has fielded five candidates – leader of opposition in the council Pravin Darekar, Shrikant Bharatiya, Ram Shinde, Uma Khapre, and Prasad Lad. Sena’s candidates are Sachin Ahir and Amshya Padvi, while Congress has fielded city unit chief Bhai Jagtap and Chandrakant Handore. Legislative council chairperson Ramraje Naik Nimbalkar and former minister Eknath Khadse are the NCP’s nominees. This leaves the field open for a bitter contest for the 10th seat in the elections, which happen through secret ballot.

An NCP leader said they were being extra vigilant considering the cross-voting in the Rajya Sabha polls. “Our hopes are pinned on the fact that BJP will need about 22 votes to get its fifth candidate elected, versus Congress, which will require 10, considering a quota of 27. If we can keep our flock together and arrange extra votes, all our candidates can sail through,” he said.

The NCP on Monday also discussed its role in the council elections. “It was decided that the Congress would have to take care of the excess votes it required to get its second candidate Jagtap elected. The party will require around 10 votes for which they have handed over the responsibility to senior leader and revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat,” another NCP leader said, adding that the NCP is already falling short of three votes to get its two candidates elected.

“There are no problems in the MVA. all our six candidates, including two of Congress, will win,” Thorat said.