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Keep your MLAs close, Independents closer – lesson for Maha Vikas Aghadi after Rajya Sabha polls

While Sena's Sanjay Raut has blamed Independent MLAs for the loss, NCP leader Chhagan Bhujbal said the MVA needs to keep Independents closer.

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Mumbai: The loss of Maharashtra’s sixth Rajya Sabha seat to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sparked off a blame game within the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance, with the Shiv Sena pointing fingers at some Independents and its allies calling for introspection. 

The Shiv Sena pointed the finger at six MLAs – either Independents or hailing from smaller parties – for MVA’s loss, with party leader Sanjay Raut alleging that they fell prey to “horse trading”.

Those named by Raut are three legislators from Hitendra Thakur-led Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (BVA), MLA Shyamsundar Shinde of Peasants and Workers Party, and Independent MLAs Sanjaymama Shinde and Devendra Bhuyar. While Bhuyar, Sanjaymama Shinde and Shyamsundar Shinde have refuted the allegations, Thakur said he wants to keep his cards to himself. 

Meanwhile, leaders from the Shiv Sena’s allies in the MVA – Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) – feel that the three-party alliance should have strategised better and managed Independents more effectively. 

In the high-voltage Rajya Sabha election in Maharashtra, the MVA and the BJP won three seats each. On their own, the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress had the strength to elect one candidate each, while the BJP had the capacity to elect two. However, the Shiv Sena fielded two candidates, banking on surplus votes of other MVA allies and a few Independents, while the BJP fielded a third candidate, drawing the MVA in a direct battle. 

In a nail-biting finish with the counting going on till the wee hours of Saturday, Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Pawar lost to BJP’s Dhananjay Mahadik. 

Crucial here, for both the BJP and Shiv Sena, was the role of the 13 independent MLAs and 16 legislators from smaller parties, about 17 of whom are likely to have swung the vote in the BJP’s favour. 

A senior Congress leader told ThePrint on the condition of anonymity that the MVA was banking on 16 of the 29 Independents and MLAs from smaller parties, but of those, “four seemed to have disappeared”.

“We are still figuring out exactly which votes these were,” he added. 

“Our homework helped, strategy helped and we were able to break votes from the MVA’s camp. They are saying most of their original smaller allies voted in their favour, but if they have the courage they should publicly declare how their original allies voted, and give a break-up of the voting patterns,” BJP MLA Ashish Shelar told ThePrint.

Also Read: Congress expels Bishnoi from party posts, ensures his comrade Surjewala’s free pass to Rajya Sabha

Blame game over lost votes

Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis, in a press conference Saturday, taunted the MVA, saying “the only lesson is that under this government, there is a lot of unrest among MLAs”.

When it underwent the trust vote in 2019, the three-party alliance had the support of 170 MLAs in the Maharashtra Assembly, including 16 MLAs who were either from smaller parties or Independents. The MVA was banking on the same legislators for the Rajya Sabha polls.

Although this time, the MVA also received support from unexpected quarters with two MLAs of the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) who had abstained during the 2019 trust vote – voting in favour of the MVA candidates.

Sanjay Raut, Shiv Sena’s only victorious candidate in the Rajya Sabha election, blamed “a few MLAs who fell prey to horse trading” for the three-party alliance’s inability to secure the sixth seat.

“These horses got sold. They were in the market and probably got a higher price, or there could be other reasons but as a result we lost about six votes of Independents. Such people are loyal to nobody,” Raut said, adding that CM Thackeray is disheartened with Sanjay Pawar’s defeat, but it is in no way a setback for the Shiv Sena. 

Raut further said the MVA has a list of Independents and smaller parties who gave the alliance their word and went back on it. “We know who you are,” he said.

MLAs on MVA’s “list”

Among those likely to be on MVA’s “list” are three MLAs of the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi, namely Hitendra Thakur, his son Kshitij Thakur and Rajesh Patil (legislators from Vasai, Nalasopara and Boisar, respectively). All three had voted in favour of the MVA in the 2019 trust vote.

“When people come to ask you for votes, you don’t say no to their faces. I just spoke to them, I gave them hospitality. Asking for a vote is their right but ultimately who to vote for, that decision is mine,” Hitendra Thakur told ThePrint, adding, “I know who I have voted for. I don’t want to disclose that.”

MVA sources, however, say they suspect Bahujan Vikas Aghadi MLAs may have sided with the BJP to get the ED off the Thakurs’ back. Last year, the Enforcement Directorate (ED) had attached assets worth Rs 34 crore of Thakur’s Viva Group in connection with a money laundering probe involving Yes Bank.

Another legislator whose name could feature in the list is Shyamsundar Shinde of Peasants and Workers Party. A first-time MLA from Loha in Nanded, Shinde too, had voted in favour of the MVA in the 2019 trust vote.

“I am an MVA MLA. I am an associate member of the NCP. I was given three names from the MVA to vote for in a particular order and I have followed the instructions,” he told reporters Saturday.

“It was a confidential vote. If Sanjay Raut knows who everyone voted for, then he seems to be the Sanjay from Mahabharata with special powers,” Shinde said, taunting the Shiv Sena leader.

Also a prospective name on MVA’s “list” is Devendra Bhuyar, the MLA from Amravati’s Morshi. Bhuyar had won the assembly polls in 2019 on a Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana ticket, and was among the MLAs who voted for the MVA in 2019. 

His party, however, expelled him earlier this year due to differences in opinion.

Bhuyar told ThePrint that he has always been with the MVA and plans to meet NCP president Sharad Pawar Sunday about Raut “maligning” his image.

“I have always been with the MVA. I also attended the MVA’s show of strength at Trident Hotel Tuesday. Sanjay Raut had some doubts and threw my name loosely like someone throws a weather prediction,” he said. 

Sanjaymama Shinde, an Independent MLA from Solapur’s Karmala who had quit the NCP in 2014, could also be on the MVA’s “list”. He had, for a brief period, joined the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana and unsuccessfully contested the 2014 assembly election. 

In 2019, Shinde contested as an Independent and won with the NCP’s support. He then went on to favour the MVA in the 2019 trust vote.

Sanjaymama Shinde told ThePrint that he had made his stand clear to a few Marathi television channels Saturday when he said: “Uddhav Thackeray should be asked if I am from the horse trading market. In 2019, when the government was being formed, I was given so many offers, how many did I accept? He should be asked that. I went to vote with Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant and Anil Desai and I voted as they told me to. I didn’t even see the paper they gave me.”

Lessons for the MVA

An NCP functionary who did not wish to be named told ThePrint that the ‘floor management’ should have been more efficient and that Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray should have been more vigilant about keeping Independent MLAs close. 

“While generally, the MVA has taken the beating, it is more specifically the Shiv Sena’s loss. CM Uddhav Thackeray, through his close aides, should have managed independent parties better and ensured their support. It was after all the Shiv Sena’s candidate. Our role as coalition partners was to support the Shiv Sena, which we did,” the NCP leader said.

Speaking to reporters Friday morning, NCP leader and Maharashtra minister Chhagan Bhujbal said the election result showed the MVA was almost as strong as it was during the trust vote, but all three parties need to treat their MLAs better and learn to keep Independents closer. 

“This election is a little complicated. Someone’s strategy may work; someone’s may be wrong. Our strategy was to get all four elected in the first round, which did not work. The MVA was formed with support from 170 MLAs, but this time instead of 170, we should have targeted to get 180,” Bhujbal said.

“All three parties should understand that the additional (Independent) MLAs, we need to get them closer. We should also take care that our MLAs are not disappointed. We should work with the assumption that an MVA MLA of any party is like an MLA of our party. We have all learnt this lesson and we should take care henceforth,” he added.

Bhujbal was perhaps referring to the intermittent resentment expressed by MLAs of the three parties part of the MVA, particularly Congress legislators, about not getting sufficient funds.

A senior Congress functionary, who did not wish to be named, blamed the loss of Sanjay Pawar’s seat on “lack of planning and overconfidence within the MVA”.

“Congress’s Imran Pratapgarhi got two extra votes than what we had planned, and NCP’s Praful Patel got one extra vote than what was planned. We have no idea where these votes came from. It is a matter of introspection,” he said.

Speaking to reporters, Congress leader and state minister Balasaheb Thorat said Saturday, “I don’t think the reason for the loss is any MLAs being upset with the CM. But we did go wrong somewhere in our math. We will have to introspect.”

(Edited by Amrtansh Arora)

Also Read: Mamata calls opposition parties’ meet on Presidential pick amid Congress reaching out to them solo


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