By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, May 18 (IANS): Next month's elections for six Rajya Sabha seats from Maharashtra promise to be a nail-biter with a contest inevitable given the current political arithmetic in the state legislature, the Maha Vikas Aghadi planning to nominate a fourth candidate and a Chhatrapati clan descendent jumping into the ring as an independent.
The RS elections are being held to fill up the vacancies by six retiring members -- one each from ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) allies, Shiv Sena (Sanjay Raut), Nationalist Congress Party (Praful Patel) and Congress (P. Chidambaram), and three from the Bharatiya Janata Party Dr. Vinay Sahasrabuddhe, Piyush Goyal and Dr. Vikas Mahatme.
These RS elections would be crucial for both the MVA and the BJP and both sides have kept their respective strategies closely guarded till now and are yet to announce their candidates.
However, as per indications, BJP may repeat Commerce & Industry Minister Piyush Goyal, the Sena will field its fiery Chief Spokesperson Raut and NCP may retain its general secretary Patel, who is a close confidante of party President Sharad Pawar, but with the CBI again going after his family, the fate of Congress' Chidambaram is uncertain.
This time, given the re-alignment of the legislature after the 2019 Assembly elections, the BJP can comfortably win two seats of the three it holds, and the MVA can win their three seats, and is toying with a fourth candidate to bag the third seat held by the BJP.
Staking a unilateral claim to the sixth seat is Yuvraj Sambhajirae Chhatrapati, the 13th direct descendent of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj, has plunged into the RS polls as an independent.
He made the announcement last week in Pune as his RS term as BJP's President-nominated member ended, setting the proverbial cat among the pigeons.
Sambhajiraje said that he would contest the June 2022 Rajya Sabha elections solo and seek the support of all political parties, but strangely, no party has commented on the Chhatrapati descendant's plans.
The electoral college comprises the 288 MLAs and a candidate must get 42 votes to win a seat in the Upper House of Parliament.
The MVA has 170 MLAs - Shiv Sena 55 (one MLA Ramesh Latke, died in Dubai last week), NCP 53, Congress 44, smaller parties/groups 10 and 8 Independents.
On the Opposition side, BJP has 106 with other smaller parties/groups 2 and 5 Independents.
Sambhajiraje explained that in these circumstances, the BJP can get only 2 seats, and the Sena-NCP-Congress one each, so he would contest that sixth seat independently with the support of various major and smaller parties.
However, in case the BJP decides to field a third candidate and the MVA would also bid for that seat, besides the candidature of Sambhajiraje, elections would be necessitated and prove to be a litmus test for both the ruling MVA and the Opposition.
MVA bigwigs, including Sena President and Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, Pawar, Congress President Nana Patole, Deputy CM Ajit Pawar and Congress Legislature Party chief and Revenue Minister Balasaheb Thorat are strategizing on the possibility of wresting the 'extra seat' coveted by Sambhajiraje, too.
Its pertinent to note that in April 2020 RS polls, NCP's Fauzia Khan had won as the Sena transferred its excess votes to her and the NCP is prepared to give a 'return gift' to the Sena this time, if all goes well, instead of obliging the young Chhatrapati.