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Lok Sabha polls: BJP says will contest 26 of 48 Maharashtra seats, allies fret over deal | Political Pulse News

Even as seat-sharing talks are yet to begin within the Maharashtra ruling coalition, the BJP has left its already jittery allies all shook up. The party has said it will contest 26 of the 48 seats in the state in the next Lok Sabha elections, leaving 22 to be shared between its Shiv Sena and NCP partners.

With their legal status not yet settled, the Shinde Sena and Ajit Pawar NCP might find it hard to justify this seemingly unilateral decision by the BJP, particularly as the rival factions of the two parties can be expected to make the most of it while its cadres watch the signals.

A senior Sena (Shinde) minister said, “While we accept the BJP as the bigger partner, it cannot thrust its decision on allies. The BJP came to power with our help.”

A leader of the NCP (Ajit Pawar faction) said that in coalition politics, “everybody is equal… with some give and take”. “The top leaders (of the BJP) know the importance of allies. Or else, why would they go out of their way to win over the Shiv Sena and NCP breakaway factions to form the government?”

The BJP is larger than its allies in terms of both organisational strength and the 2019 results. While party leader Devendra Fadnavis is Deputy to Chief Minister Eknath Shinde of the Sena, this is more an act of accommodation on the part of the BJP.

Festive offer

Realising the nervousness within its allies, Fadnavis tried to mellow the BJP’s 26-seat stand on Monday. “Generally, each party is allowed to retain the seats it contested in the last elections. The basis of seat-sharing will be this method. But a formal decision will be taken after discussions with the Sena (Shinde) and NCP (Ajit Pawar),” he said.

State BJP president Chandrashekhar Bawankule also denied any tension. “There is perfect understanding between our leaders. CM Shinde, Deputy CMs Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar are all seasoned players. We don’t expect any differences over the formula,” he said, adding that the matter will be decided on the basis of consultation and consensus.

In 2019, the BJP had contested 25 Lok Sabha seats, leaving 23 for its then ally, the undivided Shiv Sena led by Uddhav Thackeray. In addition to those 25 seats, the BJP is believed to be eyeing Palghar, which it sees as its traditional constituency and which it had conceded to the Sena last time.

The BJP had won 23 of the 25 seats it contested in 2019, losing only from Baramati and Chandrapur. It might give up Baramati, a turf of the Pawar family, for Ajit Pawar, but demand two others where the Shinde Sena is not seen to be strong.

BJP sources said the voices of discontent were not surprising. “With aspirations outnumbering seats, no party can please all.”

The Sena (Shinde) faction includes 13 of the 18 MPs of the undivided party who won last time (apart from 40 of the 56 MLAs). Shinde can be expected to insist on contesting from these 13 seats, including Yavatmal-Washim, Shirdi, Nashik, Hingoli, Kalyan, Maval, Buldhana, Hatkanangle, Ramtek, Kolhapur, Mumbai North West, Mumbai South Central and Palghar. It is also likely to lay claim to Thane, which is Shinde’s turf.

If the Shinde Sena has its way, it would only leave 8 seats out of the total 48 for the NCP (Ajit Pawar). But the latter has been insistent on nothing less than 12 seats.

In the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the undivided NCP – then in alliance with the Congress – had contested 19 seats and won four (Baramati, Raigad, Shirur and Satara). Of these 4 MPs, only Sunil Tatkare is with the Ajit Pawar faction, but it wants at least one seat in Mumbai, and a couple of seats in Vidarbha, North Maharashtra and Marathwada.

Sources said that the strategy being worked out is to give the Ajit Pawar faction a leg-up in constituencies where it can take on the Sharad Pawar group, especially high-profile ones like Baramati, Shirur, Satara.

A senior BJP leader said that while the party was willing to hear out its allies, its expectation of 26 seats was not misplaced. “In the state Cabinet, the BJP took a back seat allowing its smaller Sena ally to claim the CM post. Despite 105 MLAs, the BJP has nine ministers… the same as the Sena and NCP, though they only have 40 and 41 MLAs, respectively.”

The BJP, which expects a slide from its 2019 high, wants to have as many seats under its belt in 2024 as possible and won’t be ready to make too many compromises.

Party leaders said the central leadership has given a target of 45-plus seats out of 48. Bawankule said, “We are not working for just own party candidates but also taking the responsibility for our allies. We are working on each and every seat at the booth level as a united front.”

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