In a significant development on Wednesday, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - partners in the ruling Democratic Front in the state - agreed to forge an alliance for the civic polls in Mumbai, Thane and Nashik.
The three municipal bodies including Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), one of the richest in India, are currently ruled by the Shiv Sena-BJP alliance. The elections to municipal corporations are likely to be held in early February.
If the Congress-NCP contest the election as alliance partners, Mumbai will witness a triangular fight between them, the Sena-BJP-RPI combine and Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena.
On Wednesday, senior leaders of the Congress and the NCP - chief minister Prithviraj Chavan, state Congress president Manikrao Thakre, Mumbai Congress president Kripashankar Singh, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, state NCP president Madhukar Pichad, public works minister Chhagan Bhujbal and other NCP leaders - held the first round of talks.
Kripashankar Singh confirmed the development. "We will meet soon to discuss seat-sharing in Mumbai, Thane and Nasik. A decision on forging alliance at other places will be taken on November 30."
This time around, the leaders from both the parties are wary of losing the BMC to the saffron combine again as it will give the opposition a much-needed boost. "If we want to counter the Sena-BJP effectively, it is necessary to defeat them in a crucial civic body like the BMC. Besides, people are unhappy with the bad governance in the cities run by them and expect us to provide a better alternative," said a key NCP leader.
They are also worried that the Republican Party of India, which has considerable following among Dalit voters has joined hands with the saffron combine. Dalits are traditionally seen as Congress voters.
Though the two parties have announced a tie-up for now, both sides are still trading cautiously. Five years ago, in spite of announcing an alliance, the Congress and NCP went their own ways as they could not reach an agreement over sharing seats. This enabled the Sena-BJP alliance to win, albeit by a wafer-thin majority.
Sources in the Congress said the progress of the alliance would depend on the seat-sharing formula. So far, the Congress has shown willingness to leave 45 seats for its alliance partner. The Congress currently has 83 members, while the NCP has 14 corporators, in the 277-member civic house.
The Sena-BJP-RPI combine has already announced a tie-up and their seat-sharing talks are in the final stage.