If Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president and Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar is to be believed, the NCP and Congress are likely to start negotiations for the pre-Assembly poll alliance in Maharashtra in a couple of days.
“We’re expecting talks to begin in two to three days because we have been told that the Congress is still busy holding its internal meetings,” Pawar told a packed press conference on Friday. “So far, we have had no communication from the Congress.”
Pawar hinted that negotiations would not be as easy as expected. “Negotiations are necessary because delimitation has altered and wiped out several constituencies in the state.”
The Congress camp busied itself with preparing the poll manifesto on Friday and refused any official comment.
Though Pawar agreed that the Congress was a bigger party and more responsible in present political situations, he dismissed any possibility of the NCP merging with the parent party.
He rebuked some Congress leaders who levelled allegations that Pawar was responsible for the food price hike and scarcity in the country. “I am thankful to them that they have realised my strength — they think I can please or displease the rain gods. They may even say that I’m responsible for earthquakes.”
“We are prepared to work together [with the Congress] once the Common Minimum Programme is ready. But the Congress has a bigger responsibility this time because it is a bigger party.”
Pawar refused to divulge the number of seats from among 288 that his party was going to claim. “There is a problem if the state Congress has demanded over 179 seats. That’s their own assessment. We also have asked for applications from all 288 seats.”
A senior NCP leader who is in the know of things said that his party wasn’t prepared to take less than 122 sets — two less that the last time. “Please remember that we contested lesser numbers in 2004 but won more than the Congress.”
On Friday, the Congress camp remained mute. A senior leader said requesting anonymity that his party was in no mood to relent though it wanted to join hands with the NCP. The Congress has asked its district unit presidents to recommend names of prospective candidates. The list reviewed by state leaders would be sent to the high command for further decision.
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who will brief the media on Saturday afternoon, said he had visited the Congress headquarters on Friday to discuss the poll manifesto. “We deliberated on what we should do in future.”