Set to take over as the Maharashtra chief minister for a second time, Ashok Chavan on Sunday said the Congress party has more numbers than its ally, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), this time - making clear that the Congress would keep key portfolios with itself in the new government.
"Our strength is more now (than 1999). Aankde badal chuke hain. (The numbers game has changed)," Chavan told reporters here, hours after he was chosen by party president Sonia Gandhi to head the Congress Legislature Party in the state - and as the result be the chief minister.
In the 288-seat assembly, the ruling Congress-NCP bagged 144 seats -Congress 81 and NCP 63. In the previous assembly, the Congress had 69 and the NCP 71 members.
Specifically asked about the home ministry portfolio, which in the previous government was with the NCP, Chavan said, "This has not been discussed as yet. And I don't think it is proper to talk to you (media) about it."
Chavan said all formalities of government formation would be finalised with the NCP after it convenes its legislature party meeting. The NCP legislators will choose their leader Monday, and he will be made the deputy chief minister.
"The government formation will be smooth. I don't see any hitches in it. We have been working in the coalition government and have good experience," Chavan said when asked if he saw any trouble in negotiating portfolios with the NCP.
Asked if the Congress will take support of Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) to form the government, Chavan flatly said, "There is no question of taking the support of Raj Thackeray."
The MNS, which made its debut in the state assembly this year, has 13 members in the new house.
Chavan skirted a question on the NCP merging with the Congress, as proposed by senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh.
"It is an internal matter of the NCP," he said.
Chavan said his second term "is more challenging" and has set priorities like improving the power sector and economic welfare of farmers in the state.
"It is a five-day match now, not a one-day or Twenty20," a smiling Chavan said, adding: "Our priorities are in the manifesto".
"People have voted us to power again with expectations. We will try to meet them and bring transparency in the governance. Farmers' economic welfare and completing all the power projects in the state to improve the power situation and cut on the load shedding is my priority," he said.
He said the Congress Legislature Party had left the decision to choose the leader with party chief Sonia Gandhi and his name was formally announced past midnight.
"We have able leaders in the party who could have been the chief minister. But Sonia Gandhi reposed faith in me after the results of the Lok Sabha and assembly polls," he said.
On Narayan Rane, a strong contender for the chief minister's chair, Chavan said: "He gave me a bouquet and I am taking it back with me to Mumbai."
About former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, whom he replaced following last year's terror attacks on Mumbai, Chavan said: "I met him and we were together last night."
Chavan met several leaders including President Pratibha Patil, former union home minister Shivraj Patil, and Defence Minister A K Antony, who is in charge of the Congress affairs in the state, party general secretary Digvijay Singh and Deputy Chairman of the Rajya Sabha K Rehman Khan. The three were the central observers at the Congress Legislature Party meeting in Mumbai Saturday evening.
Chavan also said that the date for the swearing-in ceremony has not been decided yet. "Everything will be finalised soon," he said.
The Congress-NCP combine won the Oct 13 state assembly elections to form the government for the third time in a row. The MNS, which bagged 13 seats, is credited with eroding the base of the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party and helping the Congress-NCP get more votes.