In an indication of a rift in the ruling alliance, the Congress on Monday conducted screening of candidates for 114 assembly seats, which have been so far contested on by ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP). The Congress screening committee met in Delhi to finalise candidates for the 114 seats, after the exercise of finalising names for its seat-sharing quota of 174 seats has been completed.
The seat-sharing talks between the Congress and NCP for the Maharashtra polls have hit a roadblock, with the former unwilling to accept the latter’s demand of 144 of the 288 seats.
While NCP chief Sharad Pawar said in Kolhapur that the ruling alliance would contest the polls together, like they have for the last 15 years, his nephew and deputy CM Ajit Pawar reiterated that the party was firm on its demand to contest from 144 seats, but the final decision would be taken by senior leadership.
“We have left it to our top leaders Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel and Tarique Anwar to make the final decision. We are expecting the decision to be taken in next couple of days,” said Ajit Pawar, at a press conference in Mumbai.
“NCP’s demand of 140-144 seats is so unreasonable that we have decided to not engage in talks unless they come up with a better offer. No formal talks have taken place in the last week. There is serious trouble right now,” said a senior Congress leader, adding that his party suspected that the NCP is acting tough to delay the seat-sharing arrangement until the saffron combine – BJP and Shiv Sena – fixes a formula.
If the BJP, Sena contest polls solo, the elections could witness different political alignments post the polls. In such a scenario, sources from the NCP said, the party may find it beneficial to contest polls on its own. “There is a split in the NCP where the younger state leadership under Ajit Pawar feels the party should break the alliance and opt for post-poll tie up, especially if the saffron parties contest separately,” said a senior NCP leader.
It is likely that the seat-sharing talks will take place this week, after Congress president Sonia Gandhi returns to Delhi on Tuesday. The Congress central election committee is expected to meet after Tuesday, and the first list of Congress candidates could be released on Thursday.