This could be good news for the Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party, which wants to contest the impending Assembly election in alliance with the Congress.
For Union Heavy Industries Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, who wants his party to go it alone, it’s not welcome news — Union Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, who successfully led the Congress to victory in the 2004 Assembly elections as chief minister, was on Saturday appointed Campaign Committee Chief for Assembly elections 2009.
Shinde (67) is seen as a leader who can merge unwieldy coalition partners into a favourable political tide, and avoid confrontations with the NCP, which shares a prickly alliance with the Congress.
As committee chief, Shinde will organise the Congress’ campaign and play a key role in sharing seats with the NCP as well as chalking out his party’s candidate list.
“It’s a good development. He’s been chief minister as well as state Congress chief, and also led the party to victory in 2004. He’ll definitely be a big help for us,” Chief Minister Ashok Chavan said, reacting to Shinde’s appointment.
Saturday’s development is seen as a setback for Deshmukh who was keen on a major role in these elections. Deshmukh is also leading Congress hardliners who insist the party snap ties with the NCP and go it alone in this election. Chavan and industries minister Narayan Rane favour the alliance approach.
“We’re a long way from finalising our alliance but Shinde’s appointment is definitely a positive step,” said a key NCP leader who participated in the initial seat-sharing talks with the Congress. “The fact that Shinde shares cordial relations with our top leaders will ease tensions and we hope both sides will look at the ground realities objectively.”
Both parties are yet to work out a final seat sharing formula. While the Congress leadership has agreed to an alliance with the NCP, the Congress is unwilling to give in to the NCP’s demand of 124 of the total of 288 seats. Sources say Shinde’s appointment could push currently stalled talks in the right direction.