From ‘others’ to kingmakers: In Maharashtra MLC polls, Independents & small parties hold the key

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They are generally categorised as “others” when election results are announced. But in the Maharashtra legislative council elections on Monday, small parties and Independents will decide the fate of the bigger parties that have fielded 11 candidates for the 10 seats at stake.

The Opposition BJP has fielded five candidates while six candidates from the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) ruling coalition are in the fray. The Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), and the Congress of the MVA have fielded two candidates each, making a fight for the tenth seat inevitable.

The math is currently like this: to get elected a candidate needs 26 votes; the BJP, with a strength of 106 in the Assembly, requires 130 votes in total to get all five of its candidates — Praveen Darekar, Ram Shinde, Shrikant Bharatiya, Uma Khapre, and Prasad Lad — elected.

The Congress has 44 votes and to get both its candidates, Bhai Jagtap and Chandrakant Handore, elected, it needs 52. This leaves it requiring eight additional votes from smaller parties, independents or allies. The NCP, which has 51 votes, will need just one additional ballot to get both its candidates, Ramraje Nimbalkar and Eknath Khadse, elected. The Sena has 55 votes. After getting its candidates Aamysha Padavi and Sachin Ahir elected, it will be left with three surplus votes that it can — in a situation in which there is no cross-voting or invalid votes — pass on to the Congress.

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Independents and small-party MLAs

As things stand, both the BJP and the Congress have to reach out to small parties and Independents to get over the line. At present, there are 11 small parties in the House with 16 MLAs and 13 Independents.

The legislators from the small parties are the CPI(M)’s Vinod Nikole (Dahanu MLA); the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi’s (BVA) Rajesh Patil (Boisar), Kshitij Thakur (Nalasopara), and Hitendra Thakur (Vasai); the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena’s (MNS) Pramod alias Raju Ratan Patil (Kalyan Rural); the Samajwadi Party’s (SP) Abu Azmi (Mankhurd) and Rais Shaikh (Bhiwandi East); the Krantikari Shetkari Party’s Shankarrao Gadak (Nevasa); the Jan Surajya Shakti’s (JSS) Vinaj Kore (Shahuwadi); the Prahar Janashakti Party’s (PJS) Bacchu Kadu (Achalpur) and Rajkukar Patel (Melghat); Swabhimani Paksha’s Devendra Bhuyar (Morshi), the All India Majlis-e- Ittehadul Muslimeen’s (AIMIM) Faruk Anwar (Dhule City) and Mohammad Ismail Abdul Khalique (Malegaon Central); the Peasants and Workers Party of India’s (PWPI) Shyamsunder Shinde (Loha); and the Rashtriya Samaj Party’s Ratnakar Gutte (Gangakhed).

The Independents in the Maharashtra Assembly are Mahesh Baldi (MLA from Uran), Sanjay Vithalrao Shinde (Karmala), Rajendra Raut (Barshi), Prakashanna Awade (Icchalkaranji), Rajendra Patil (Shirol), Ravi Rana (Badnera), Ashish Jaiswal (Ramtek), Narendra Bhindekar (Bhandara), Kishore Gajanan Jorgewar (Chandrapur), Geeta Jain (Mira Bhayander), Chandrakant Nimba Patil (Muktainagar), Manjula Gavit (Sakri), and Vinod Agrawal (Gondiya).

Strategies in place

The BJP has adopted its Rajya Sabha election strategy of weaning away the smaller parties’ MLAs or the Independents standing with the ruling coalition. “In the state council, we will witness an earthquake,” state BJP president Chandrakant Patil said recently. “In the Rajya Sabha, our rivals were taken aback by the explosion. But now we will spring greater surprises. We are confident of getting all five candidates elected.”

In last week’s election for the Upper House of Parliament, the Opposition party managed to receive the support of more than 10 Independents or small party MLAs who were previously believed to have been supporting the ruling coalition. With a strength of 106 MLAs, the BJP polled 123 votes. While parties such as the MNS, the JSS and Independent MLA Ravi Rana are expected to vote for the BJP, it is also hoping to get the support of some of the MVA allies from this section.

MLA Prakash Awade said, “I will vote wherever I want. I like PM (Narendra Modi) and (state’s Leader of Opposition) Devendra Fadnavis.” A legislator from western Maharashtra, requesting anonymity, said, “My loyalty is to Sharad Pawar’s NCP.”

Most of the Independents and small parties The Indian Express spoke to held their cards close to the chest. The BVA led by Hintendra Thakur said, “We will go by what is good for our party. We will decide whom to vote for.” The SP’s Abu Azmi said he wants the MVA to “fulfil its demand of Muslim reservation before seeking votes”.

Six other MLAs from this category said they would lend their support to the ruling coalition in the state but refused to divulge if their votes would go to the Congress, the NCP, or the Sena.

State Congress president Nana Patole said he was banking on the support of secular parties and Independents. Said a party insider, “If the AIMIM, the SP, the CPI(M), the PJS, and the PWPI, along with two non-BJP Independents, come to our help, we will manage to secure both seats.” However, the party still has not received any formal assurance from these political forces.

“If the BJP’s target is Sena, it will be a cakewalk for us,” said a senior Congress functionary. “But if BJP is locked in a direct fight with us, it will be a tough contest.”

The Congress leader said cross-voting was a distinct possibility as the council polls are held through secret ballot. The Congress has also been irked by Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s lack of initiative to work collectively for the polls. The Sena has adopted an approach of each party for itself. After losing out to the BJP in the Rajya Sabha polls, Sena insiders said the party would not transfer its three surplus votes to the Congress and would like to use them to secure its own candidates.

State NCP president Jayant Patil expressed confidence about his party’s candidates making it through. “We have the requisite numbers. A couple of Independents aligned to the NCP will support us.”

While the Maharashtra Assembly is 288-member strong, 285 MLAs at present look set to vote for the polls. While Shiv Sena MLA Ramesh Latke died last month, the Bombay High Court on Friday turned down the pleas of NCP leaders Nawab Malik and Anil Deshmukh to vote in the council elections. Malik, a Cabinet minister, and Deshmukh, a former home minister, were also not allowed to vote in the Rajya Sabha polls since they are in judicial custody in two separate cases of money laundering.

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