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11 MLC Seats, 12 In Fray: Maharashtra Parties Move MLAs To 5-Star Hotels

The ruling coalition has put up nine candidates.

Mumbai:

Resort politics has made a comeback in Maharashtra, as has the possibility of cross-voting and horsetrading, as the state gears up to hold elections for 11 Legislative Council seats on Friday. Riding high after its unexpectedly good performance in the Lok Sabha polls, in which it won 30 of the state’s 48 seats, the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi has fielded three candidates, one more than it has the numbers to elect, necessitating the election.

The Maharashtra Assembly, which has 288 seats, currently has 274 members, meaning that every MLC candidate needs 23 first-preference votes to get elected. The ruling Mahayuti – part of the larger NDA alliance – which consists of the BJP, the Eknath Shinde faction of the Shiv Sena and the Ajit Pawar wing of the NCP, has fielded nine candidates and has 201 MLAs, including Independents and smaller parties, backing it. 

The Maha Vikas Aghadi, which is under the INDIA umbrella, has the Congress, Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray) and the Nationalist Congress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) as its key constituents and has put up three candidates despite having the support of only 67 MLAs. Six MLAs, including an independent, are neutral and may end up playing a key role in the elections because 12 candidates are now vying for 11 Lok Sabha seats. 

What makes the exercise interesting, apart from the numbers game, is its timing – just after the Lok Sabha elections and months ahead of the Assembly polls in the state – which has led to it being dubbed a semi-final. This is also only the second time that elections will be held in Maharashtra’s unique political environment, where the split of two regional parties has led to two Shiv Senas and two NCPs – under very similar but different names – being pitted against each other. 

The Lok Sabha polls were the first round and parties from both sides are now pulling out all stops to ensure that they come out tops in the second. After Ajit Pawar’s NCP won just one Lok Sabha seat, there has been a strong buzz that MLAs from his party are looking to jump ship and return to the faction of the party led by Sharad Pawar. Their support is what may have given the opposition the confidence to field a third candidate.

Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray, who triggered the need for the election by fielding his close aide, Milind Narvekar, had said, “We would not be doing it (fielding a third candidate) if we had not been confident of winning.”

How The Numbers Stack Up – Mahayuti

The BJP, which has 103 MLAs, has fielded five candidates – Pankaja Munde, Yogesh Tilekar, Parinay Phuke, Amit Gorkhe and Sadabhau Khot – which means that it is 12 MLAs short of the number it needs to get them elected.

The Chief Minister Eknath Shinde-led faction of the Shiv Sena has 37 members in the Assembly and has put up two candidates – Krupal Tumane and Bhawana Gawli. It is nine MLAs short.

The faction of the NCP led by Ajit Pawar has 39 MLAs and has two candidates in the fray,  Rajesh Vitekar and Shivajirao Garje, falling seven short of the 46 votes needed to get them elected. 

The ruling coalition is, however, banking on nine MLAs from smaller parties and 13 Independents to see it through. 

How The Numbers Stack Up – Maha Vikas Aghadi

The Congress, with 37 MLAs and one candidate, Pradyna Satav, is the only party with 14 surplus votes. Sharad Pawar’s NCP, with its 13 MLAs, is supporting the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP’s) Jayant Patil. 

Former chief minister Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena has put up Mr Narve as a candidate despite having just 15 MLAs, eight short of the figure it needs. 

The Congress votes may make up for the shortfall faced by Mr Patil and Mr Narve but the votes of the AIMIM’s two MLAs, the SP’s two, the CPI(M)’s lone MLA and one Independent – all of whom are seen to be neutral – will be key. The Congress has claimed the coalition has the support of at least some of these MLAs

MLAs In Hotels

Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Vijay Wadettiwar of the Congress, organised a dinner meeting for his party MLAs at a hotel in Mumbai on Thursday night. The Congress has issued a whip to its MLAs asking them to vote for candidates of the Maha Vikas Aghadi. Exact instructions, given the surplus votes, will be issued just before voting begins, reported news agency PTI. 

Uddhav Thackeray held a dinner interaction with his MLAs at a five-star hotel in central Mumbai on Wednesday night. All 11 MLAs who attended the meeting stayed back at the hotel, where they were joined by the four remaining legislators on Thursday, said a party leader. 

Ajit Pawar’s NCP has moved its MLAs to a five-star hotel near the airport in suburban Mumbai while MLAs from Shiv Sena gathered in Vidhan Bhavan complex on Wednesday morning for a meeting and then moved to a five-star hotel in Bandra. 

BJP MLAs are also at a luxury hotel, but the the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) has not made any such move. 

Jayant Patil, the Maharashtra president of the NCP, said, “We have full faith in our MLAs and don’t feel the need to keep them in five-star hotels.” 

Voting will take place from 9 am to 4 pm and counting of votes will begin an hour later. 

(With inputs from PTI)