Eye on grand alliance, Congress offers Palghar to Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, Sangli to Raju Shetti

Sandeep Ashar
Swabhimani Paksha MP Raju Shetti. (Express)

In a last-ditch measure to cobble together a broader alliance against the BJP-Shiv Sena combine in Maharashtra, the Congress on Thursday offered the Palghar Lok Sabha seat to Hitendra Thakur-led Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA). Additionally, the party's core committee in the state also decided to offer western Maharashtra's Sangli seat to Raju Shetti's Swabhimani Paksha to seal the poll pact with him.

Earlier, the Congress central leadership had shown displeasure with the state leaders over their inability to finalise seat-sharing arrangements with the smaller parties. While the Congress and NCP have firmed up an alliance, plans to form a grand Opposition alliance to challenge BJP and Sena haven't materialised so far.

Sources said that the Congress high command had directed the state leadership to expedite seat-sharing talks. With Shetti's outfit holding sway in six to seven Lok Sabha segments in western Maharashtra and Marathwada, the Congress has been eyeing him as a "crucial" ally.

With agrarian distress and rising farmer suicides being the mainstay of Congress' poll campaign in rural Maharashtra, party's poll managers feel a strategic alliance with Shetti - who runs farmers' outfit Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana - will benefit the alliance. Ahead of the 2014 polls, the BJP had forged an alliance with Swabhimani Paksha.

Just as NCP has backed Shetti's candidature from Hatkanangle, the latter had been demanding two more seats - Buldhana (from NCP) and Wardha (from Congress), which was declined. On Thursday, Congress core committee, in a desperate effort, offered its own Sangli seat to Paksha. By doing so, the Congress has essentially limited its own representation in western Maharashtra to two seats.

Incidentally, sources said that a Congress ticket aspirant from Sangli, who belongs to a political family, has been in talks with Paksha for nomination.

In Palghar's case, the Congress had previously offered the seat to CPI(M). But the talks for CPI(M)'s inclusion in the alliance have been stalled, with the latter demanding north Maharashtra's Dindori seat for its sole sitting MLA Jiva Gavit and the NCP unwilling to let go of it.

While the BJP currently represents the seat, the BVA controls three out of six Assembly segments - Boisar, Nalasopara and Vasai. It also controls the local municipality. Former MP Baliram Jadhav is expected to be BVA's candidate. Backing out of the poll ring, the Congress, which has limited presence in the constituency, has decided to support the BVA. In the saffron alliance, the seat has come Sena's way. Former MP (late) Chintaman Wangha's son Shreeniwas is likely to be fielded.