Dinner diplomacy, hotel stays for MLAs ahead of council elections in Maharashtra

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Mumbai, Jul 10 (PTI) With the threat of cross-voting looming large, political parties in Maharashtra are hosting dinner meetings and arranging hotel stays for their MLAs in a bid to keep their flock together ahead of the July 12 biennial polls to the Legislative Council, where 12 candidates are in the fray for 11 seats.

Eleven members of the Upper House of the state legislature are retiring on July 27 and these high-stakes polls, where MLAs form the electoral college, are being held to full in the vacancies.

Leader of Opposition in the assembly Vijay Wadettiwar of the Congress has organized a dinner for his party MLAs in a Mumbai hotel on Thursday.

On the other hand, Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray, a constituent of the opposition Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), is holding an interaction with his party MLAs over dinner at a five-star hotel in central Mumbai on Wednesday night.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) is moving its MLAs to a five-star hotel in the suburbs.

Legislators of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena gathered in Vidhan Bhavan complex on Wednesday morning for a meeting ahead of the council polls. The BJP legislature party also convened a strategy meeting of its members in Vidhan Bhavan premises during the day.

Eleven MLCs -- undivided Shiv Sena's Manisha Kayande and Anil Parab, Congress's Pradyna Satav and Wajahat Mirza, undivided NCP's Abdullah Durrani, BJP's Vijay Girkar, Nilay Naik, Ramesh Patil, Ramrao Patil, Rashtriya Samaj Paksh (RSP)'s Mahadev Jankar and Peasants and Workers Party (PWP)'s Jayant Patil -- are completing their 6-year term on July 27.

The 288-member legislative assembly is the electoral college for the polls and its current strength is 274.

Each winning candidate would need a quota of 23 first-preference votes.

The BJP is the largest party in the assembly with 103 members, followed by the Shiv Sena (38), NCP (42), Congress (37), Shiv Sena (UBT) 15 and NCP (SP) 10.

Other parties with a presence in the lower house include the Bahujan Vikas Aghadi (3), Samajwadi Party (2), AIMIM (2), Prahar Janshakti Party (2), MNS, CPI(M), Swabhimani Paksh, Jansurajya Shakti Party, RSP, Krantikari Shetkari Paksh and PWP (one each). Besides, there are 13 independent MLAs.

The BJP has fielded five candidates -- Pankaja Munde, Yogesh Tilekar, Parinay Phuke, Amit Gorkhe Sadabhau Khot -- and its ally Shiv Sena two -- former Lok Sabha MPs Krupal Tumane and Bhavana Gawali.

The NCP has given tickets to Shivajirao Garje and Rajesh Vitekar, while the Congress has re-nominated Pradnya Satav for another term.

The Shiv Sena (UBT) has fielded Milind Narvekar, a close aide of party president Uddhav Thackeray.

The NCP (SP) is supporting Jayant Patil of the PWP.

Last week, Thackeray expressed confidence that all three candidates of the opposition MVA, which comprises the Sena (UBT), the Congress, the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) and some smaller parties, will emerge victorious.

When pointed out that the opposition bloc does not have the numbers in the assembly to ensure the victory of its third candidate, the former chief minister had remarked, "We would not be doing it (fielding 3rd nominee) had we not been confident (of winning)." The MVA does not have numbers on its side to get the third candidate elected, but it is banking on some MLAs of the NCP and the Shiv Sena, both constituents of Mahayuti, to cross vote in their favour.

Over the last few days, the NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar) has claimed that some MLAs of the rival camp are in touch with the opposition party for possible return. PTI MR RSY

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