The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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NCP fear: 'collision', not coalition

New Delhi, Oct. 26: As foes-turned-allies, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party took 10 days to install the first Democratic Front government in Maharashtra after a bitter electoral battle in October 1999.

This time, even 11 days since their pre-poll alliance emerged victorious, the two have failed to arrive at an understanding on forming the new government.

The result is the trust they had developed as partners has taken a beating.

The NCP, which initially claimed the post of chief minister but agreed to let the Congress retain it with Sushil Kumar Shinde at the helm again, today bristled at the 'arrogant attitude' of Congress leaders.

NCP leaders virtually accused their Congress counterparts of going back on certain offers they had made during the negotiations in return for allowing Shinde to continue as chief minister.

Apparently, the offers were made at an unpublicised Sunday-night meeting of senior Congress leaders with NCP chief Sharad Pawar at his 6, Janpath residence. Pranab Mukherjee, Arjun Singh, Ghulam Nabi Azad and Ahmed Patel were part of the Congress delegation at that meeting where Pawar agreed to let Shinde head the government.

In return, NCP members said, the Congress leaders indicated their readiness to concede two posts of deputy chief minister, three additional ministerial slots in the 43-member council and two portfolios more than what the NCP held in the outgoing ministry.

The NCP camp was expecting the Congress to formally convey its decision yesterday. Pawar was even ready with a media statement announcing an agreement on government formation. But it did not come about.

The Congress then requested a second meeting with Pawar late last night to clinch a final deal. But NCP sources said Congress leaders called off the meeting. As the stalemate persisted, Pawar cancelled a scheduled meeting with his colleagues this morning.

'It seems that after we have agreed to allow them to keep the chief ministership with them, the Congress is going back on its readiness to concede our requests. They are not following the coalition course. It is collision course,' an NCP leader said.

The Congress is understood to have conveyed its reluctance about two deputy chief minister slots for the NCP. The party has also had second thoughts about yielding the portfolios of revenue and cooperatives and urban development.

The Congress' latest position is understood to have been conveyed to the NCP this afternoon soon after Mukherjee, Patel and Azad discussed the situation with party chief Sonia Gandhi. While the NCP is prepared to settle for two alternative portfolios of labour, and forest and environment, till late tonight it was firm on two deputy chief ministers.

Late this evening, Shinde is understood to have informally suggested to NCP leader Praful Patel a way out of the deadlock. Sources said he suggested the NCP should consider giving up one of the three additional ministerial slots offered by the Congress in exchange for a favourable consideration of its demand for two deputy chief minister posts.

Pawar has scheduled a meeting with his leaders tomorrow morning, apparently hoping that by then the Congress would concede its demand of two deputy chief ministers.

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