RS biennial elections on Mar 26, interesting battle on cards

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Mumbai, Feb 26 (UNI) An interesting battle is in store in the biennial elections to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra, scheduled for March 26 to fill in vacancies to be caused by the retirement of seven sitting members, including two Union Ministers -- Murali Deora (Petroleum Minister) and Prithviraj Chauhan (PMO), and former state governor P C Alexander.

In the 288-member Maharashtra Legislative Assembly, which will elect the seven Rajya Sabha members, each candidate should poll a minimum of 37 votes to get elected in the first round itself.

With the present strength, both the Congress and the National Congress Party should easily ensure the victory of two candidates each while the Saffron alliance partners, BJP and Shiv Sena, could comfortably win one seat each. The seventh seat is likely to witness a keen fight in the elections, where the members have to vote in accordance with the whip.

The party-wise break-up in the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly is Congress - 75, NCP - 71, Shiv Sena - 56, BJP - 54, Jan Surajya Party - 4, CPI(M) - 3, PWP - 2 and Swatantra Bharat Party, Akhil Bharatiya Sena, Republican Party of India, and BRP Bahujan Mahasangh - one each. There are 19 independents.

The other four members who are retiring are Datta Meghe (NCP), Vedprakash Goyal (BJP), Eknath Thakur and industrialist Rajkumar Dhoot (Shiv Sena).

Political observers expect the elections to go on the expected lines or even see an unanimous choice emerging in view of the open voting. The ruling Congress and NCP alliance with the support of others, including independents, PWP and CPI(M), could muster adequate strength to see their nominee get elected.

The Congress is likely to renominate both Murali Deora and Prithviraj Chauhan, while the NCP has still not decided whether to renominate Mr Meghe, whose son Sagar is BJP MLC.

According to sources, efforts were on to work out a truce with Mr Meghe, who is annoyed with NCP leadership but unlikely to challenge NCP supremo Sharad Pawar.

Party sources indicated that Sagar Meghe may be brought back to the NCP and made a minister, which will help bring the father-son duo back into the NCP fold. However, if this works out, Datta Meghe may have to sacrifice his seat. Apart from this, several other names are making rounds for the NCP's second seat.

''Nothing has been finalised so far and an important meeting of the party is taking place tomorrow,'' party spokesman Madan Bafna said. He brushed aside as ''media creation'' a question on the possibility of liquor baron Vijay Mallya contesting as NCP candidate. Mr Mallya is retiring after a term in Rajya Sabha from Karnataka, where he won with the support of the JD (Secular) and BJP.

BJP, which can elect one candidate on its own, is expected to nominate Piyush, son of Vedporakash Goyal. Piyush, a chartered accountant, has the support of Maharashtra BJP president Nitin Gadkari.

The name of BJP's national spokesman Prakash Jawadekar was also making rounds. But, according to party sources, Mr Gadkari was keen to get Piyush from Maharashtra and is of the view that Mr Jawadekar could be adjusted in elders house from any other BJP-ruled state.

Though rumours were there that Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray's ambitious daughter-in-law Smita might enter the Rajya sabha, it was unlikely that Uddhav, who is known for his enigmatic style, would allow it as he would like to avoid another power centre within the Thackeray family.

Eknath Thakur is expected to be the Shiv Sena candidate while the Shiv Sena-BJP combine can set up a third candidate in industrialist Rajkumar Dhoot to try a second term in Rajya Sabha.

According to the sources, both Gopinath Munde and Uddhav Thackeray are ''searching'' for a suitable joint candidate.

UNI JM VK SG KP1824

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