DISMISSING speculations of a merger with the Congress, the NCP on Saturday indicated that it will push for an equal share of seats from the Congress during negotiations for the Maharashtra Assembly polls, scheduled held later this year.
On Saturday, NCP president Sharad Pawar held discussions on the party’s Lok Sabha defeat and the plan for the state polls with party’s office-bearers in Mumbai.
The review meeting comes two days after Pawar’s discussion with Congress president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi. Speculations of a possible merger of NCP with the Congress have been doing the rounds since that meeting, even as Pawar had himself clarified that they had discussed only the state polls and drought conditions.
Congress at nadir in state, NCP flexes muscles
With the Congress recording its worst-ever Lok Sabha performance in Maharashtra, its key ally, the Nationalist Congress Party, has started flexing its muscle. In order to tilt the seat-sharing negotiations for the upcoming Assembly polls in its favour, the NCP has started pitching for a proportionate seat-sharing formula. The NCP is willing to accommodate some smaller allies from its own quota of seats, and wants the Congress to accommodate the rest. While alliance talks had faltered over seat-sharing negotiations in 2014 state elections, senior leaders from both parties maintain that they have no option but to contest unitedly this time around. By demanding equal share, NCP is seeking the first-mover’s advantage in seat-sharing talks.
Addressing NCP workers, Ajit Pawar, the party chief’s nephew and NCP’s state legislative party leader, said: “There is no question of a merger. The NCP will retain its independent identity… The Opposition is trying to spread a canard. Therefore, everyone (in the party) should say that there is no truth in it.”
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State NCP president Jayant Patil later told the media, “The question of a merger does not arise. There is no such discussion. Who is spreading false news?”
Ajit Pawar hinted that the NCP will vie for more seats in talks with the Congress, according to party leaders.
In 2009, when they had last contested the state polls as allies, NCP had contested on 114 out of 288 seats. The alliance had split in 2014 ahead of Vidhan Sabha elections after NCP demanded equal share on the ground that its strength had improved in Maharashtra. In 2014 Lok Sabha polls, NCP had won four seats, while the Congress had two. This time, NCP again won four seats, and the Congress has a solitary MP from Maharashtra.
But this time, leaders from both parties are firm on contesting the polls together. Hinting that NCP does not want any tension in the alliance, Ajit told party leaders that NCP will not stake a claim for Leader of Opposition’s post in Maharashtra, which has been under cloud ever since Congress’s Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, who is tipped to join BJP, stepped down.
Jayant Patil, meanwhile, sought “finalisation of seat-sharing talks as soon as possible”.