Hardening his stance over allying with the Congress and the Indian National Developmental Inclusive Alliance (INDIA) bloc for the 2024 General Election, Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) chief Prakash Ambedkar on Monday said if the Congress did not respond to the VBA’s offer of alliance within a week, then the party would contest all 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra on its own.
Explaining the reason behind his ‘ultimatum’, Mr. Ambedkar, the grandson of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, said that while Congress leaders had been claiming they had yet to receive any alliance proposal from the VBA, his party had, in fact, written to Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge on September 1 when the party and its allies were in Mumbai for the third INDIA bloc meeting.
Mr. Ambedkar said that an e-mail from VBA spokesperson Advocate Priyadarshi Telang to Mr. Kharge was written to request the Congress to debunk the on-going speculation of the VBA being sent an invitation for the INDIA alliance meeting in Mumbai.
“The second objective was to convey that the VBA’s doors are open for an alliance. It has been almost a month since the e-mail was sent and made public on Mr. Telang’s X (formerly Twitter) handle, but there has been no response from Mr. Kharge or any of his associates in the Congress,” claimed Mr. Ambedkar.
The VBA chief demanded to know whether his party was ever going to receive a reply from the Congress.
“If not, then the Congress should explain to the people of Maharashtra why it does not want to involve the representation of Vanchits and Bahujans (Deprived and Majority) in the alliance. It should explain why a party [the VBA], which garnered 6.98 and 5.57% vote share in the 2019 Lok Sabha and Maharashtra Legislative Assembly elections, has not been invited or included in the INDIA alliance,” said Mr. Ambedkar.
Mr. Ambedkar is allied with Uddhav Thackeray’s Shiv Sena (UBT) in Maharashtra. The Sena (UBT), is in turn, allied with the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP faction as part of the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) coalition.
Stating that his alliance with Mr. Thackeray remained firm, Mr. Ambedkar said the “roadblock” was that the seat-sharing arrangements between the Sena (UBT), the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP had not yet begun.
“While the VBA and the Sena (UBT) have full confidence on each other, the roadblock is that Uddhav Thackeray has not had any discussions with Congress or Sharad Pawar’s NCP on seat-sharing. I believe Congress is boycotting meetings called by NCP to discuss the seat-sharing between the three parties. I do not see any agreement or formula between the three MVA parties happening soon. Only when the Sena (UBT) sort out its seat-sharing with Congress and NCP, can we make our seat-sharing arrangements with Mr. Thackeray,” he said.
“Hence, the VBA has decided to prepare on all 48 Lok Sabha seats in the State keeping in mind the worst-case scenarios possible,” he said.
Mr. Ambedkar informed that he, along with his party-leaders, would begin statewide tours soon beginning with Latur district, followed by Beed and Nashik.
The VBA chief, a former three-time MP, has announced his intention to contest from Akola, from where he had twice been elected to Parliament in the past.
Despite forming an alliance with Mr. Thackeray in February this year, Mr. Ambedkar has not been taken into the MVA coalition owing to the wariness of the Congress and Mr. Pawar’s NCP faction.
The prime reason for their averseness to inducting the VBA is that in the 2019 Lok Sabha election, Mr. Ambedkar’s party, then allied with the Asaduddin Owaisi-led AIMIM, had played havoc by fragmenting the Ambedkarite-minority community votes that traditionally went to the Congress and the NCP, causing the defeats of Congress candidates in at least nine seats.
Last week, Mr. Ambedkar had heavily criticised the Congress by remarking that the party reportedly used Dalits, tribals, Muslims and OBCs like “tissue paper” to be used and thrown away – a fact that has not endeared him to the Congress leadership.