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January 30, 1998


Congress, SP, RPI come together in Bombay to take on BJP-Sena

Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay

In a move that could pose a stiff challenge to the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance in the metropolis, the Congress has for the first time agreed to contest only three out of the six seats in Bombay, leaving two to the Samajwadi Party and one to the Republican Party of India.

The move is expected to consolidate the non-saffron votes in the city. In the 1996 election, the BJP-Sena had won all the six seats in the city, and one of the reasons for this sweep was the split in the `non-secular' vote.

Speaking to Rediff On The NeT Abu Asim Azmi, president of the Samajwadi Party's Bombay unit, said, "In order to defeat the communal forces in Maharashtra, we had no other option than joining hands with the Congress."

Prospects for seat adjustments among the three parties brightened after the Congress party decided to support Hussain Dalwai, the Samajwadi Party's state general secretary in the Maharashtra legislative council election, on December 29.

"The council election is an acid test for our unity," Dalwai had then told Rediff On The NeT, and the result was satisfactory with the Congress and the SP together defeating BJP-Sena candidate Kanhaiyalal Gidwani.

The likely Congress candidates for the three seats are Murli Deora from Bombay South, Gurudas Kamat from Bombay North-East and Anupchand Shah from Bombay North. While Deora will take on Jaywantiben Mehta of the BJP, Kamat will fight BJP general secretary Pramod Mahajan. Shah will take on BJP veteran Ram Naik.

The SP has already fielded Tushar Gandhi in Bombay North-West and Sohail Lokhandwala from Bombay South-Central. The lone RPI seat, Bombay North-Central, will be contested by dalit leader Ramdas Athavale. Gandhi will lock horns with the Sena's Madhukar Sarpotdar, Lokhandwala will take on Mohan Rawle, while Athawale will challenge the Sena's Narayan Athavale. All three Sena candidates were members of the 11th Lok Sabha.

The Communist Party of India-Marxist may seek Congress support for its candidate in the Dahanu parliamentary constituency, while Prakash Ambedkar, Dr B R Ambedkar's grandson, is likely to go in for a seat adjustment in the Akola constituency.

Says Kamat, "I am sure after this seat adjustment. I will defeat Mahajan, by more than one hundred thousand votes."

Kamat had lost the last election by a margin of 192,000 votes against Mahajan. Interestingly, Athavale, who also contested the seat against Mahajan, had bagged 222,519 votes on the RPI ticket.

"The dalit and Muslim votes in my constituency went completely to Athavale. If I have a one-to-one contest with Mahajan, I am sure I will defeat him," added Kamat.

In the last election, the Congress bagged 34.80 per cent of the total votes polled in Maharashtra. The BJP bagged 21.80 per cent while its ally the Shiv Sena bagged 16.84 per cent. The third front altogether bagged 26.56 per cent of votes, dampening the Congress's chances in the election.

"Twenty six per cent is quite high. And it is this vote which the Congress will bag after the seat adjustment, resulting in easy victory for us," adds Kamat.

However, the BJP refuses to heed this line of argument. Says Atul Bhatkalkar, the party's public relation officer, "1996 cannot be compared to 1998. The BJP and Shiv Sena's popularity has grown in the last two years. It has been able to make inroads into all sections of society. Moreover, large number of people in Maharashtra believe we are the only ones who can give a stable government to the country. So, the seat adjustment between the two parties will not affect us."

"Moreover," says Bhatkalkar, "there is no guarantee that the traditional Congress voter will vote for a Samajwadi or an RPI candidate. He can also vote for the BJP and Sena candidate.."

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