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Raut irks Congress by saying seat-sharing talks with it have to ‘start from zero’

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MUMBAI, Dec 29:  Shiv Sena (UBT) leader Sanjay Raut on Friday said his party would contest 23 of the 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra, and the seat-sharing talks with the Congress have to “start from zero” as the latter had `not won any seat’ in the previous elections, a statement that drew a sharp response from the state Congress.

The majority of the Sena MPs are now with the Eknath Shinde faction and the Congress now happens to be the biggest party in the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) alliance, state Congress leaders Sanjay Nirupam and Milind Deora pointed out.

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The Uddhav Thackeray-led Shiv Sena, Sharad Pawar faction of the Nationalist Congress Party and Congress are part of the MVA.

Speaking to reporters,  Raut said the Shiv Sena (UBT) leaders, including Thackeray, have been holding talks with Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge, party leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi and general secretary K C Venugopal over seat-sharing.

“We have said that we have been contesting 23 seats in Maharashtra and (will also contest) Dadra Nagar Haveli,” Raut said, adding that “the Shiv Sena is the biggest party” in Maharashtra while the Congress is a national party.

The current MP of Dadra Nagar Haveli is from the Sena.

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“We have decided that the seats won by us (MVA allies) will be discussed later. The Congress does not figure in it as it has not won any seat in Maharashtra. So talks with the Congress have to start from zero in the state,” Raut further said.

Asked about state Congress leaders pointing out that the Sena is no longer a united party, Raut said the Congress did not split up, and yet it lost the recent assembly elections in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

“A party is tested on the ground. Our party workers are with us. Even if our party split, we won the Andheri assembly bypoll and you (the Congress) won the Kasba Peth assembly bypoll with our support,” Raut said.

The Congress, nevertheless, remains an important part of the MVA, and the alliance partners will contest the coming elections together, he said.

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In the 2019 general elections, the undivided Shiv Sena under Uddhav Thackeray’s leadership —  in alliance with the BJP — contested 23 seats and won 18. It later broke off the ties with the BJP, and in 2022 the Sena itself split after Eknath Shinde rebelled against Thackeray.

The NCP won four seats in Maharashtra in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and the Congress only one. The Congress’s lone MP from Chandrapur, Balu Dhanorkar, died earlier this year.

Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam hit back at Raut, saying the Shiv Sena (UBT) cannot win any seat on its own. It needs the Congress and vice versa, said the former MP.

Of the 18 MPs of the Shiv Sena, more than a dozen MPs have deserted the Uddhav Thackeray camp and joined the Shinde faction, he said.

“They don’t even have a guarantee as to whether the remaining MPs will stay with them,” Nirupam added.

Milind Deora, another Congress leader from the state, tweeted that any alliance in Maharashtra cannot materialize  without consultation with the state Congress leadership.

Deora, a former Mumbai MP who is now a joint treasurer of the Congress, said, “ I want to tell Sanjay Raut that any alliance cannot  move forward without consultation with the Maharashtra Congress leadership.”

He also objected to Raut’s contention that despite losing 40 MLAs to the Shinde faction , the Sena (UBT) is the largest party in the MVA alliance.

“Raut says seat-sharing talks with the Congress should begin from zero. He is talking about a party which is the largest opposition party in the assembly and leading the opposition bloc (at the national level),” Deora said. (PTI)



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