The NCP used the argument of keeping the secular vote intact to put pressure on the Congress to consider a seat sharing pact for the forthcoming assembly polls in five states and the civic polls in Maharashtra.
At the meeting of the Working Committee, the NCP gave the Congress 48 hours to begin the exercise of a seat sharing understanding for the prestigious "mini elections" in Maharashtra. Since the party derives its political strength from this state, the stakes for the NCP are high in these polls.
Spokesman DP Tripathy however, clarified that the party was not issuing an ultimatum. "Time is running out...All secular forces should fight together. We want an alliance between Congress and the NCP in Mumbai and in other places, but we cannot force it. It is for the Congress to decide," he said.
The two parties, which are in a coalition in the state, are competing with each other in trying to grab the political space that they believe is falling vacant because of the split in the Shiv Sena and the confusion in the BJP ranks after the death of Pramod Mahajan.
Talks between the Congress and the NCP for the February 1 polls to the 227-member Mumbai Corporation have so far remained deadlocked as Sharad Pawar’s party wanted at least 75 seats and the Congress was ready to part with only 55.
On behalf of the party, Union Minister Praful Patel will continue his discussions with Congress leaders like Sonia Gandhi’s Political Secretary Ahmed Patel and AICC general secretary in charge of Maharashtra Margaret Alva. "We hope something will come of it very soon. It will be unfortunate if both the parties fail to hammer out an arrangement. The main objective is to oust the Shiv Sena-BJP combine from the Mumbai corporation," the spokesman said.
According to Tripathy, as the party leading the UPA coalition at the Centre, the Congress should take the initiative to rally all secular forces for the assembly elections in Manipur, Punjab, Uttaranchal, Goa and Uttar Pradesh.
The day-long Working Committee meeting, which was chaired by Pawar, was attended by 40-odd delegates, also condemned the execution of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and the Noida serial killings and expressed happiness over UP Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav’s decision to recommend a CBI inquiry into the gruesome murders. Reacting to queries, Tripathy also ruled out a merger with the Congress.