After failed attempts to engineer pre-poll alliances with several mainstream regional parties in Maharashtra, the Congress on Saturday declared that it had put together a 'Samyukta Purogami Mahaaghadi (United Progressive Grand Alliance)' involving 56 different outfits.
"Ab tak chappan (56 until now)," said a senior state Congress leader, as Maharashtra Congress president Ashok Chavan announced the names of the party's allies in the state.
While the number is impressive, a closer look at the alliance reveals that the majority of the so-called "allies" aren't even political outfits. The Congress has even included labour unions, community outfits and mitra mandals, who have extended support to the Congress-led alliance, as poll allies.
Only five partners of the "grand alliance" would be contesting the election. The Congress itself will contest 24 out of the 48 seats in the state, the NCP will field candidates on another 20, former NDA ally and sitting MP Raju Shetti's Swabhimaani Shetkari Paksha will contest two seats. Vasai-Virar MLA Hitendra Thakur's Bahujan Vikas Aghadi will fight one seat, and Independent MLA Ravi Rana's newly floated Yuva Swabhimaan Party will fight one seat.
Even among the non-contesting allies, the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) and some of the Republican factions such as the People's Republican Party, Republican Party of India (Gawai) and some other Republican factions, Congress sources admitted none of the other "allies" had tasted any significant electoral success. While both the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party leaders held several rounds of discussions with Prakash Ambedkar for the inclusion of the Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) in the alliance, the talks remained inconclusive.
Ambedkar, a former MP, who is also the grandson of Dr Bhimrao Ambedkar, has forged an alliance with Asaduddin Owaisi's All India Ittehadul Majlis-e-Muslimeen for the ensuing polls, and had announced that their formation will field candidates on the all the 48 seats. With the Ambedkar and Owaisi duo also targeting the Dalit and the Muslim vote, which has traditionally gone with the Congress, both the Congress and the NCP leaders remain wary regarding the impact they would have on the election.
In fact, Chavan himself spelt out the concern at the press meet held in the evening to announce the alliance. "We had made sincere efforts to forge alliances with others as well. But the BJP and the Sangh (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) has used the lure of money, power and muscle to make them stay away in a bid to split the secular vote," said Chavan, taking a veiled dig at Ambedkar.
NCP's Ajit Pawar was more direct. "We (the Congress and NCP) were even willing to offer a total of 10 seats to the smaller allies to form a broader alliance against the combine. We had offered six seats to one party. But the party's leader took an extreme point of view on various issues, making it impossible for us to stitch an alliance with him. All this leads to the suspicion on whether this party is in the fray to function as BJP's 'B' team," said Pawar.
He was also referring to the BBM. Pawar also raised the same suspicion for others who have not joined the alliance. Alliances talks with the Bahujan Samajwadi Party, the Samajwadi Party and the Communist Party of India (Marxist), all of whom have pockets of influence in several parliamentary constituencies in the state, had failed as well. Meanwhile, PWP's Jayant Patil and PRP's Jogendra Kawade made an appeal to "like-minded" parties who are yet to join the alliance to come into the fold. "The BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state and the NDA government in the Centre is working against the interest of the farmers, the workers, and the common man. All like-minded parties should come together to defeat them," said Patil.
With NCP suffering the most from defections to the BJP ahead of the polls, Pawar lashed out at the ruling party. "About 25 per cent of their announced candidates are people who have been associated with the Congress and the NCP in the past. Why are they poaching so desperately? This shows that their own leaders haven't done any good work in the last five years. They (the BJP) only believes in using power for money, and money for power," Pawar said. Reacting to Pawar's offensive, BJP’s senior Maharashtra minister Vinod Tawde targeted Pawar, and even laughed off at the threat posed by the Opposition's Mahaaghadi.