Maharashtra: NDA goes all out to rope in Sharad Pawar, Raj Thackeray
The NDA is renewing its efforts to woo Sharad Pawar to join the ruling alliance ahead of 2024 national elections, even as talks are on to bring MNS' Raj Thackeray into the fold as well to checkmate Uddhav Thackeray in the upcoming BMC polls
In its bid to expand and strengthen the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) before the crucial Lok Sabha and Assembly elections in Maharashtra, there seems to be a renewed attempt to reach out to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar to convince him to join the ruling alliance.
To further consolidate its position in Maharashtra before the three crucial polls, which includes the city municipal elections, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is making similar attempts ahead of the 14-month election calendar in the state and has reached out to Raj Thackeray, chief of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS).
The Raj Thackeray factor
Even though the BJP leadership is tight-lipped about the ongoing talks with Raj Thackeray, the senior leaders of the party said that there have been at least two rounds of talks with deputy chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and the MNS chief Thackeray has also met chief minister Eknath Shinde to discuss development work in Mumbai and Nashik.
Interestingly, Mumbai and Nashik are the two regions where MNS enjoys political influence.
“The BJP-NDA is very clear that we have to get as much support as possible in Maharashtra. We want Raj Thackeray to support the NDA even if he does not join it formally,” admitted a senior BJP leader from Maharashtra.
Members of the BJP are of the opinion that Raj Thackeray can play a crucial role against the Shiv Sena led by former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray in the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections, which is expected to take place in September-October later this year.
The crucial BMC elections
Senior leaders of the BJP believe that the BMC election can prove to be a crucial test for the party, and it will also indicate if the recent alliance with chief minister Eknath Shinde and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar can help the BJP retain power in the state and also dominate in the Lok Sabha elections.
“The BJP was all alone in Maharashtra. There were three political parties against it, NCP, Shiv Sena and Congress. Now, the BJP has decided to take away a large number of legislators from the Shiv Sena and NCP so that it is better equipped for the challenge to beat all three parties together. The test for the BJP is to find out if shifting Members of Legislative Assembly (MLAs) will lead to shifting votes. These elections will prove it,” said the BJP leader quoted above.
While the BJP is trying to strengthen its alliances, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) is also actively reaching out to political leaders before the polls. Recently, the RSS has stepped in, as a group of RSS leaders recently met Raj Thackeray at his residence in Mumbai.
Desperate attempts to woo Sharad Pawar
With fewer than nine months for the Lok Sabha elections and little over a year for the assembly polls, the NDA is going all out to reach out to Sharad Pawar because a large section of BJP leaders feels that the BJP and NCP together can be invincible in Maharashtra.
Senior leaders of the BJP explained that the party can neither align with Congress nor the Shiv Sena, so the only party left is the NCP. Since the split in the NCP, there have been at least four attempts by the NDA to convince Pawar to join the BJP-led alliance.
“Ajit Pawar is trying to convince Sharad Pawar to join hands with the BJP and not let the party get divided. But, the problem here is that it is Ajit Pawar who has divided the party, not Sharad Pawar. It was Ajit Pawar who decided to leave the party and become part of the NDA, it was not Sharad Pawar,” said a senior NCP leader based in Mumbai.
BJP leaders further explained that the attempt to convince Sharad Pawar was also being made because any divide in the Opposition party alliance will only help the BJP not just in Maharashtra but also at the national level, as division in the Opposition alliance would discredit the INDIA alliance.
“The BJP is spreading these rumours that a cabinet post has been offered to Sharad Pawar and another ministry has been offered for Supriya Sule. It is not true. Sharad Pawar is too senior, and Ajit Pawar is much junior to him. There is nobody in Maharashtra politics who can dare make such offers to Sharad Pawar,” said a senior leader of the NCP who is in the know about the development.
According to senior leaders of the NCP, Sharad Pawar has told party workers that they should not believe reports suggesting that he will join the NDA because he will continue to be with the Opposition alliance. Pawar has held three public meetings since the monsoon session concluded on August 11, and in all the meetings, he has clarified that he is with the Opposition alliance.
“Before the INDIA alliance members reach Mumbai for the meeting later this month, Sharad Pawar plans to hold at least a dozen public meetings and gatherings in different parts of Maharashtra. He is firmly working for the Opposition alliance,” the NCP leader said.
Checkmating Uddhav Thackeray and division of votes
Political analysts believe the BJP is trying to reach out to Raj Thackeray to counter former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray in the Mumbai region. Experts said Raj Thackeray’s influence is limited to Mumbai, and the BJP would need his support for the local body elections and some seats in the Lok Sabha elections.
According to Nitin Vishwanath Birmal, associate professor at the Dr. Ambedkar Art & Commerce College in Pune, this is going to be a "very interesting contest". "This is because both Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar will be contesting against each other in the regions of western Maharashtra and Marathwada, as that is the only area of influence of the NCP," he pointed out.
“A division of votes because of Ajit Pawar and a similar division of votes because of Raj Thackeray in Mumbai will benefit the BJP,” added Birmal, commenting on the evolving political scenario in Maharashtra.