Maharashtra Rajya Sabha Polls, Ashok Chavan To Join BJP, Chavan Quits Congress

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In Maharashtra Rajya Sabha Polls, Worry For Congress After Ashok Chavan Quits

Mumbai:

Ex-Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan’s resignation from the Congress Monday – within days of two other senior figures quitting – has jeopardised his former party’s Rajya Sabha plans, and underscored the challenge it faces – to keep top leaders united – weeks before a general election.

Six of Maharashtra’s 19 Rajya Sabha seats fall vacant in April. The Congress holds only one of these – occupied by Kumar Ketkar. Of the rest, the Bharatiya Janata Party holds three and factions of the Shiv Sena and Nationalist Congress Party – led by Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar – one each.

In Maharashtra, a party needs 41 MLAs to elect one person to the Rajya Sabha.

Maharashtra Rajya Sabha Elections Numbers Game

Put very simply, the Congress is in danger of losing Mr Ketkar’s seat – one of only three it has in the state – because it does not have the numbers. The party had 44 MLAs before Mr Chavan walked out and former minister Sunil Kedar was disqualified in December after his conviction in a corruption case.

Now it has only 42, and that number could drop to 41 if the rumours about Zeeshan Siddique, the MLA from Mumbai’s Bandra (East), are true. Mr Siddique is expected to join Ajit Pawar’s NCP.

And Zeeshan Siddique isn’t the only MLA the Congress could lose before the February 27 Rajya Sabha election, with Ashok Chavan expected to take at least five with him to the BJP.

READ | ‘Treated Like Curry Leaves’: Baba Siddique After Congress-To-NCP Switch

Mr Chavan, a day after he quit the Congress and declared he would take some time to decide his political future, has said he will join Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party later today.

READ | Day After Quitting Congress, Ashok Chavan To Join BJP Today

The Congress’ future in Maharashtra is therefore decidedly unsteady, particularly with Lok Sabha elections due in April/May and the state also scheduled to hold Assembly polls this year.

As of now the party holds only 30 of the Upper House’s 245 seats, of which 12 are nominated.

There is an outside chance the Congress can still hold on to Mr Ketkar’s seat, but that will rely on two factors, neither of which is certain in the country’s increasingly volatile political landscape.

First, the Congress will require all of its MLAs (however many it has left come voting day) to toe the party line. Second, it will need outside support – from at least one of its Maha Vikas Aghadi allies.

However, it is not yet clear if Uddhav Thackeray and Sharad Pawar’s parties will be allowed to vote for a Congress candidate. Mr Thackeray’s Sena and Mr Pawar’s NCP factions do not have enough – only 16 and 13 MLAs, respectively – to retain their two seats, meaning these are definitely up for grabs.

To that end, the Congress’ Maharashtra in-charge, Ramesh Chennithala, will meet Sharad Pawar.

READ | Sharad Pawar Moves Supreme Court Over Poll Body’s NCP Order

All of this opens the door for the BJP, which has 106 MLAs in its camp, and also has 40 MLAs from Chief Minister Eknath Shinde’s ‘real Shiva Sena’ and 41 from Ajit Pawar’s ‘real NCP’.

It will likely also be backed by 10 independent lawmakers.

This means the saffron party can retain its three seats without a problem. However, two of these have been allocated to Mr Pawar’s group and the third is promised to Mr Shinde’s party.

Ashok Chavan’s crossover, and the Congress’ expected subsequent loss of MLAs, means the BJP can poach at least two of the three remaining seats, one of which is expected to go to the ex-Congressman.

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