With poll pundits estimating that they’ll win more seats than the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have already begun fighting for a larger share of the pie.
The results will be declared on Thursday, but the tussle over chief ministership began days ago. Though the NCP’s central leaders have been insisting that they would not stake claim to the post — party chief Sharad Pawar said in Delhi that “the next Maharashtra chief minister will be from the Congress” — the party’s state leaders are saying the possibility still exists. State NCP chief RR Patil said his party could get the post, while Deputy Chief Minister Chhagan Bhujbal demanded that the parties share the post for two-and-a-half years each.
A senior NCP leader, requesting anonymity, said that the pressure tactics would continue until the Congress concedes to the NCP the departments of its choice. “We know that the Congress wants to snatch away important departments like home, finance and water resources. But we won’t let that happen,” he said.
Chief Minister Ashok Chavan has been insisting that the Congress gets the home department.
The Congress’ bitterness stems from the deal it was forced to strike with the NCP in 2004 when the latter won two seats more than the grand old party. The NCP conceded the chief ministership to the Congress but got key departments in return. Now, with predictions that it would do better than the NCP, the Congress wants the home, finance and irrigation departments back.
The NCP’s newfound confidence can be traced to the large number of rebels who contested against Congress candidates. The Congress suspects that the NCP encouraged these rebels to defeat its candidates.
“We will swell our numbers by making rebel winners our associate members. What matters is the number of MLAs when it comes to bargaining [with the Congress],” said an NCP minister.