Defections rattle Congress, NCP camps in Maharashtra

Key desertions from the Congress and the NCP had earlier hit the Opposition’s Lok Sabha campaign in Maharashtra, where both suffered defeats.

A fear of defections has gripped the Opposition in Maharashtra. Amid indications that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is set to accommodate former Leader of Opposition in the Assembly, Radhakrisna Vikhe-Patil, and former NCP minister Jaidutt Kshirsagar in his Cabinet, both the Congress and the NCP are taking measures to avoid further defections, confirmed sources.

Last week, Congress leaders met at the party’s state headquarters in Dadar to take stock of the situation. AICC’s Maharashtra incharge Mallikarjun Kharge was also present during the meeting. “We are holding district wise meetings to keep our flock together,” a Congress leader said.

State Congress chief Ashok Chavan accused the BJP of using power to engineer a split in the party. “They (BJP) won’t succeed in their sinister plan. Our legislators are committed to the party’s ideology,” Chavan said.

Besides Vikhe-Patil, four other sitting Congress legislators — Kalidas Kolambkar, Nitesh Rane, Abdul Sattar and Jaykumar Gore — are in touch with the BJP’s state leadership, confirmed party sources. Sattar has already resigned from the Congress, while the others may soon switch sides.

In the NCP camp, party president Sharad Pawar is personally taking stock of the situation. While Pawar’s party has been the most hit by defections since the BJP came to power in the state, speculation that three more senior leaders — including two sitting legislators and a former minister — are planning to jump ship have rattled the party’s leadership. Sources said Pawar has personally reached out to these leaders.

Key desertions from the Congress and the NCP had earlier hit the Opposition’s Lok Sabha campaign in Maharashtra, where both suffered defeats.

Congress’s Satara district president Ranjitsinh Naik Nimbalkar and NCP’s former MP Ranjitsinh Mohite-Patil were among those who switched sides. Mohite-Patil’s father Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil, a former Deputy CM, is also expected to join the BJP soon.

Hinting at further defections from the Opposition, BJP minister Girish Mahajan last week claimed that at least 25 MLAs of the Congress and the NCP were in touch with him. “Some of them have either met me personally or called me or sent feelers through a third party that they were interested in joining BJP,” said Mahajan.

Responding to Mahajan’s claims, NCP state president Jayant Patil said, “Why does he (Mahajan) need to talk about it? They are simply trying to induce a false impression that the Opposition is splitting apart. But none of this is true.” He, however, admitted that the party has adopted measures to curb defections, while refusing to divulge further details.

Chavan, too, hit out at Mahajan. “It is the arrogance of power that is making him make such outlandish claims.”

A Congress leader said, “We have had an internal review. At this moment, none of the other MLAs are vulnerable to defection. But we aren’t taking any chances.”

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