After being kept out of the alliance for the upcoming Lok Sabha elections between the Samajwadi Party and Bahujan Samaj Party in Uttar Pradesh, the Congress is having trouble firming up its alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra. This is because the smaller alliance partners are demanding a larger share of seats than both bigger parties are willing to concede.

This comes amid reports that the Congress is also battling the Rashtriya Janata Dal over the seat-sharing formula in Bihar.

The Congress and Nationalist Congress party have reached a broad consensus on sharing 42 of Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats, but they are still fighting over six seats. This, along with demands by smaller parties for more seats, has meant that the Opposition has not announced its seat-sharing arrangement in Maharashtra so far. This has led to speculation that the smaller parties in the state may contest the upcoming Lok Sabha polls separately, which will help the Bharatiya Janata Party.

‘Alliance is secure’

The six seats the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party are deadlocked on are: Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, Buldhana, Nandurbar, Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg and Raver.

A Congress party functionary from Maharashtra claimed that the Nationalist Congress Party is likely to give up its claim on Aurangabad, Nandurbar and Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg, but differences over the remaining seats are not likely to be resolved easily. Nationalist Congress Party insiders said party president Sharad Pawar is adamant on “50:50” formula, but the Congress wants a repeat of the formula they shared in 2014, when it had 26 seats and the Nationalist Congress Party 21. The alliance had left one seat (Akola) for Prakash Ambedkar of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh.

Former state Congress president Manikrao Thakre, however, said that the alliance was secure and there was unnecessary speculation about it. “There are minor differences which will be sorted soon,” said Thakre. “The seat-sharing formula will be similar to what it was in 2014. We will get 26 seats and share the rest with the Nationalist Congress Party.”

Nationalist Congress Party spokesperson Nawab Malik also said there was no threat to the alliance. “There is no doubt that Congress and NCP will be contesting the 2019 Lok Sabha elections together,” said Malik. “The only problem is accommodating the regional parties that are demanding a higher number of seats than they deserve.” He added that negotiations were expected to go on till next week, and once there was a consensus, a formal announcement would be made.

Smaller parties want more seats

Among the smaller parties demanding a larger seat share is the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh. Its leader Prakash Ambedkar, who lost the 2014 election from Akola, has demanded 12 seats, which the two bigger alliance partners are not willing to concede.

The Congress has also been unsuccessfully trying to dissuade Ambedkar from joining hands with the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen. On Tuesday, senior leaders from the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party spoke to Ambedkar on both matters, but they did not make any headway. Ambedkar subsequently claimed that the talks were at a standstill. Ambedkar had even set a deadline of Wednesday for both parties to accept his demands. tried to contact Ambedkar for his comments but he did not respond.

“We are ready to give two seats from our quota [to Ambedkar’s party] and the NCP is ready to do the same,” said Thakre. “This is the best we can offer.”

It is not just Ambedkar. Firebrand farm leader Raju Shetti, the president of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, is also demanding two seats, which is unacceptable to both the bigger parties, who have offered Shetti just one. He has refused to accept this.

Shetti had contested the 2014 elections as part of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance, but had severed ties with it in 2017 over differences with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s agricultural policies. Soon after this, Congress leaders arranged a meeting between him and party president Rahul Gandhi who spoke to him about a formal understanding before the 2019 polls. The current deadlock over seat-sharing has dampened the initial euphoria surrounding Shetti’s decision to join hands with the Congress.

The third smaller partner in the alliance is the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which is demanding the Dindori seat in Nashik district, where it has considerable support. The Nationalist Congress Party, however, believes that since its candidate polled the second highest votes in this seat in the 2014 polls, it should be given preference over the communist party.

The Samajwadi Party too is asking for one seat. The demand has put the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party in a fix considering it has very little influence in the state. “Initially, the SP [Samajwadi Party] leadership wanted few seats for the upcoming Assembly polls but their demand for one Lok Sabha seat has come as a surprise,” said Malik.

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