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Pawar party challenger joins NDA

Mumbai, Jan. 7: The National Democratic Alliance today got a boost with farmers’ body Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana announcing it would join the combine and add to a three-way front of the Shiv Sena-BJP-Republican Party of India in Maharashtra.

The Sanghatana has spearheaded protests for higher sugarcane prices in western Maharashtra, the turf of Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP).

Today’s announcement by the Sanghatana, led by farm activist and MP Raju Shetti, could spell more trouble for the NCP in the sugar belt.

The Arvind Kejriwal-led Aam Aadmi Party had announced yesterday that it would field candidates against NCP ministers facing allegations of corruption, and if required, fight all 22 seats the NCP plans to contest.

The Sanghatana’s inclusion in the Sena-BJP-RPI alliance was finalised in a closed-door meeting at Sena president Uddhav Thackeray’s Mumbai residence, Matoshri, this afternoon.

Senior figures of the NDA, including Uddhav, BJP leaders Gopinath Munde, Vinod Tawade, Eknath Khadse and state BJP chief Devendra Fadnavis were present, as was the RPI’s Ramdas Athawale. The Sanghatana was represented by Shetti and Sadabhau Khot.

“Some seats will be left for the RPI and the SSS (Sanghatana), but which and how many, the Sena-BJP will leave will be decided on January 14,” said Munde, who had earlier appealed to the Sanghatana to join the NDA.

Sanghatana sources said Shetti had demanded four seats in western Maharashtra. These include Madha, from where Pawar is the sitting MP, and Baramati, represented by his daughter Supriya Sule.