The Congress in Maharashtra is considering a pre-poll tie up with Dalit leader Prakash Ambedkar and Hyderabad politician Asaduddin Owaisi for the upcoming assembly elections. Mr Ambedkar, grandson of BR Ambedkar - the architect of India's constitution, heads the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) which is backed by Mr Owaisi's All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM). The two groups contested the Lok Sabha elections together, winning none of the 48 seats in the state but scoring a sizeable portion of the total vote.
The Congress had accused the same outfit of being a B-team of the BJP during the national elections and as it had feared, the VBA did end up eating into its votes.
The move comes after a meeting held by the party to analyse the reasons for its poor show in the state. The Congress won just one parliamentary seat in Maharashtra while its ally the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) won four and the BJP and Shiv Sena scooped up 41.
The meeting was attended by top leaders of the state Congress set up, including state Congress chief Ashok Chavan, who lost his own seat - Nanded. According to sources, several party workers demanded the Congress reconsider its alliance with the NCP. However, with Sharad Pawar among the very few leaders to have met Rahul Gandhi in Delhi after the elections, that is unlikely to happen.
Ashok Chavan told reporters, "Many workers have asked for a pre-poll alliance with the VBA and we are in favour of such a tie up." However, top Congress leaders are denying that there is any move to call off the alliance with NCP, even though many party workers feel the alliance with the Congress is only helping the NCP and not the Congress. However when it came to the alliance with NCP, Mr. Chavan said, "Some leaders have expressed their anger and we will work on it. All is well with the alliance and we will fight elections together."
Many Congress workers say, with Sharad Pawar being the tallest leader in the alliance, he works towards his party's interests and not the Congress's interests. Therefore, they feel, the Congress's chances would improve without the NCP. Congress workers openly conveyed their complaints about the NCP to its leadership at the meeting held on Friday.
The VBA got around 40 lakh votes in the national elections, mainly in Dalit and Muslim pockets of the state, cutting into the Congress share. It managed to win almost 25,000-35,000 votes nearly 80 of the 288 assembly seats across the state. It won over 15,000 votes in 18 assembly seats and these margins could help the Congress recover in the assembly seats, party leaders feel.
Mr Owaisi's party, AIMIM also opened its account in Maharashtra with the tie-up as its candidate from Aurangabad, Imtiaz Jaleel, won the seat though with a very thin margin. In the last assembly elections in 2014, the AIMIM had eaten into the Congress votes and managed to win two seats in the assembly.
But while the Congress may be more accommodative and open towards an alliance, the VBA is not so keen on it. Aware of its leverage, it may ask for more seats than the Congress can afford to give away. Prakash Ambedkar has already said he wants the Congress to explain whether it still believes that the VBA is a B-team of the BJP.