Sharad Pawar’s Nephew Meets Raj Thackeray Over Anti-BJP Front

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Ajit Pawar, has argued that not including Raj Thackeray in the Front will split the anti-BJP vote.

Despite divisions within prospective partners Congress and Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party over the inclusion of Raj Thackeray in the anti-BJP Front in Maharashtra, Mr Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar held an hour-long meeting with the chief of Maharashtra Navnirman Sena on Wednesday.

With 48 seats, Maharashtra sends the second highest number of lawmakers to Lok Sabha after Uttar Pradesh. Sources say the MNS is expecting at least two seats for the Lok Sabha elections.

Mr Thackeray, who has been railing against the BJP and daring his cousin Uddhav Thackeray to quit the NDA, is known to be keen on joining the opposition front.

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But Raj Thackeray's party, known equally for its anti-migrant rhetoric, is expected to bring problems for the Congress, which is pushing an inclusive agenda nationally as a contrast with the BJP.

Ajit Pawar, however, has argued that not including Mr Thackeray in the Front will split the anti-BJP vote.

"We must bring together all those who find secular ideologies as acceptable if we really want to defeat the Shiv Sena-BJP combine," Ajit Pawar was quoted as saying by news agency Press Trust of India on Tuesday. The MNS, he pointed out, had secured one lakh to one-and-half lakh votes in the past elections in some constituencies.

There have been reports that Sharad Pawar – who has reached an understanding with the Congress about seat sharing in the state – ruled out an alliance with the MNS.

But over the last year, the NCP chief has shared stage several times with Raj Thackeray. In October, their long conversation during a plane journey to Mumbai had set off speculation about an alliance.

Last month, that speculation was fuelled by Mr Thackeray's invitation to top political leaders in Delhi for his son's wedding.

Among those invited were Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Mr Thackeray also invited BJP veteran LK Advani and cabinet ministers, but conspicuously left out Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel — considered an inner-circle member of the Congress — who attended the wedding, had a one-on-one meeting with Raj Thackeray, which was seen as a signal for opening a channel of communication.

While both NCP and the MNS have nothing to lose, as they are limited to Maharashtra, the Congress is worried about the national picture.

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