Stressing that he was never opposed allying with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar on Sunday said both parties were welcome to join in the proposed alliance between the Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena faction and the VBA.
Ever since current Maharashtra Chief Minister and rebel Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde split the Sena with his revolt and toppled Mr. Thackeray’s tripartite MVA coalition government, a proposed alliance between the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray or UBT) and Mr. Ambedkar’s VBA ahead of the civic polls has long been on the cards.
However, while Mr. Ambedkar and Mr. Thackeray’s camp have strongly indicated that the alliance is on, a formal announcement is pending, with the VBA chief pointing to the reluctance of Mr. Thackeray’s MVA partners — the Sharad Pawar-led NCP and the Congress — in taking the VBA on board.
Speaking in Amravati district in the Vidarbha region on Sunday, Mr. Ambedkar clarified that he had never been averse to allying with either the Congress or the NCP, but that both parties had “rejected” the VBA in the past.
“Uddhav Thackeray feels he ought to take the Congress and NCP in this alliance [with the VBA] and then make a formal announcement…That is their [the MVA’s] issue. I have said we [the VBA] welcome both parties. So, the day they [the MVA] are decided on this issue, they will perhaps make a formal announcement,” Mr. Ambedkar, grandson of Babasaheb Ambedkar, said.
He further said that in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, the VBA had welcomed an alliance with the Congress to take on the ruling BJP, but the latter had ultimately rejected it owing to differences over seat-sharing.
“We had asked the Congress to give us [VBA] 12 Lok Sabha seats where they had lost five times in the past. But they did not ultimately agree to that…It is the Congress and the NCP which had rejected us. Their brief does not seem to include poorer members of the Dalit and Maratha communities,” said Mr. Ambedkar.
The Thackeray-Ambedkar alliance, which is being projected as another game-changer in the ever-shifting political equation in the State, has run into roadblocks in the form of alleged opposition from the NCP and the Congress.
Mr. Ambedkar, who had recently claimed that the NCP overtly and the Congress covertly “objected” to the VBA being part of the MVA, further said: “I will not speak with Congress and NCP on this issue… If they feel the need, they will speak with us.”
Meanwhile, Shiv Sena (UBT) leader and former Minister Subhash Desai on Sunday said that the alliance would be sealed soon and a formal announcement would be made in the next few days.
Sources said that the VBA-Sena (UBT) alliance could even be made in the following week.
Meanwhile, Mr. Ambedkar’s remarks on welcoming the Congress and the NCP received a positive response from both parties. Congress spokesperson Atul Londhe commended Mr. Ambedkar’s stance as “rising above party politics”.
“We certainly welcome Mr. Ambedkar’s approach and agree that the benefit that the BJP is getting because of the division between like-minded parties must be stopped,” Mr. Londhe said.
The VBA, which had allied with the All India Majlis-E-Ittehadul Muslimeen (AIMIM) at the time of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, snatched Dalit-minority votes that traditionally went to the Congress and the NCP, causing damage to both parties in a number of seats. As a result, the latter parties are wary of the VBA’s induction into the coalition, given the similarities of their respective vote banks.