Dinner meetings, luxury hotel stay for MLAs ahead of key Maharashtra council polls on Fri

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Mumbai, Jul 11 (PTI) With threat of cross-voting looming large, political parties in Maharashtra have moved their MLAs to hotels and are holding last minute strategy meetings ahead of Friday's biennial elections to 11 Legislative Council seats for which 12 candidates are in the fray.

Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs), who form the electoral college for the polls, will gather in Vidhan Bhavan complex in south Mumbai where voting will take place from 9am to 4pm. Counting of votes will be taken up at 5pm.

Eleven members of the upper house of the state legislature are retiring on July 27 and these high-stakes polls are being held to fill the vacancies.

To keep their MLAs together, political parties are organising dinner meetings and arranging hotel stays for them ahead of the council elections, which are taking place just three months ahead of the assembly polls in the state.

Leader of Opposition in the assembly Vijay Wadettiwar of the Congress, a constituent of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), has organized a dinner meeting for his party MLAs at a city hotel on Thursday night.

The Congress has issued a whip to its MLAs asking them to vote as per the party directive. As per the directive issued by Congress Legislature Party leader Balasaheb Thorat, it is mandatory for all party MLAs to vote for the MVA candidates.

Necessary instructions regarding the voting process will be given to Congress MLAs before the polling starts at 9 am, as per the party directive.

Shiv Sena (UBT) chief Uddhav Thackeray, also a member of the opposition bloc MVA, held a dinner interaction with his MLAs at a five-star hotel in central Mumbai on Wednesday night.

Eleven Shiv Sena (UBT) MLAs attended the dinner and they stayed back in the hotel. On Thursday, four remaining legislators joined them, a party leader informed.

Thackeray, an MLC, told the MLAs they have stayed loyal to him and he need not tell them what they should be doing during the voting, said the party leaders.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) has moved its MLAs to a five-star hotel near the airport in suburban Mumbai. Assembly members of Chief Minister Eknath Shinde's Shiv Sena gathered in Vidhan Bhavan complex on Wednesday morning for a meeting and then moved to a five-star hotel in Bandra.

A meeting of the BJP legislature party took place in Vidhan Bhavan complex on Wednesday night and from there, the saffron outfit's MLAs were taken to a five-star hotel.

The BJP, the Shiv Sena and the NCP are part of the ruling Mahayuti coalition.

The NCP (Sharadchandra Pawar), a constituent of the MVA, has expressed faith in loyalty of its MLAs and has not joined other parties in shifting them to hotels.

Jayant Patil, president of the Maharashtra NCP (SP), emphasised, "We have full faith in our MLAs and don't feel the need to keep them in five-star hotels." 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 Thackeray.

The NCP (SP) has not fielded its nominee and instead extended support to Jayant Patil of the PWP.

Only the Congress has excess votes since it has fielded only one candidate.

Apprehensions of cross-voting prevail in both ruling Mahayuti and opposition MVA blocs.

Last week, Thackeray expressed confidence that all three candidates of the opposition MVA will emerge victorious in the council polls.

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 (SP) has claimed that some MLAs of the rival camp led by Ajit Pawar are in touch with the opposition party for possible return. PTI MR RSY