With less than a week left for nominations to close for Maharashtra Assembly polls, top Congress and NCP leaders will meet here tomorrow in a last ditch attempt to resolve the seat-sharing deadlock and salvage the 15-year-old alliance.
NCP’s Core Committee chaired by party chief Sharad Pawar went into a huddle here this afternoon where it reaffirmed that the alliance should continue but insisted on getting a larger share of the state’s 288 Assembly seats than 124 offered by Congress.
“Congress should be practical and we expect an open dialogue to find a solution to this deadlock. Time is running out for both of us as the last date of filing of nomination papers in September 27,” senior party leader Praful Patel told reporters after the meeting.
Patel said Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Ahmed Patel, Political Secretary to Congress President Sonia Gandhi called him up yesterday and told him about their engagements in Delhi. They suggested that talks be held tomorrow, he said.
“It was decided that tommorrow at 10 AM Ajit Pawar (Deputy CM), Sunil Tatkare (state NCP Chief), senior leader Chhagan Bhujbal and myself will meet Congress leaders led by the Chief Minister and discuss seat-sharing. We expect Congress to discuss beyond 124 seats which we contested in 2004,” he said.
“The offer of 124 seats is unacceptable to us,” he said, adding NCP’s demand for increased number of seats stays.
NCP had contested 114 and Congress 174 in 2009 Assembly polls and has been insisting on fielding candidates in half of the 288 seats, citing it had double the number of Lok Sabha seats in the state than Congress. In worst-ever performance for the ruling alliance, NCP had won 4 LS seats against Congress’ 2.
Tomorrow’s meeting will be the first between the leaders of the two allies after Sharad Pawar had met Sonia Gandhi on August 6.
Patel also trashed reports suggesting that NCP could go with BJP after the polls.
“Mispropoganda against NCP is not right. We don’t have any other agenda. It’s our right to grow politically. Why accuse us of having an agenda. NCP has been the most loyal and responsible ally of Congress in the state and the Centre. Our conduct has been exemplary,” he said.
Patel said after meeting Congress leaders tommorrow, NCP will discuss the details within the party in the presence of Sharad Pawar and then a final call will be taken.
When asked if the stalemate will be resolved by tommorrow when it has not happened till now, Patel said,” In politics, things always happen at the eleventh hour.”
He, however, chose not to quantify the final number of seats NCP was ready to accept, saying, “We have the barometer of our self respect.”
He said, “We will take a decision which will be in our interest and that of the state. In 2004, we were the single-largest party and gave up the Chief Minister’s post because Congress insisted.”
Responding to a question on whether the Congress-NCP alliance was dependent on the fate of Sena-BJP relations, Patel said his party had nothing to do with the saffron alliance.
“Our demand for equal seat-sharing was made a long time ago and not after the Sena-BJP rift came out in the open,” he added.