The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong crown with price puzzle

New Delhi, Oct. 27: Eleven days after Maharashtra learnt who won the elections, the state has been told which party the new chief minister will belong to but not his name.

Driving a hard bargain for several days and nights, the Congress and the NCP this evening came out with a compromise package almost identical to the 1999 model.

The chief minister will be from the Congress, which has fewer MLAs than Sharad Pawar's NCP. Going by the public pronouncements of both parties, Pawar does not appear to have made any gain other than a few additional berths and portfolios. (See chart)

The involvement of the Prime Minister and Laloo Prasad Yadav in last-minute negotiations has fuelled speculation that Pawar's party could be accommodated better in the Union government. NCP leader Praful Patel, however, insisted that his party had not bargained for 'anything beyond Maharashtra'.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had a brief session with Pranab Mukherjee and Pawar soon after a cabinet meeting this afternoon. Laloo Prasad was present at Sonia Gandhi's 10 Janpath residence just before the Congress chief finalised the deal.

Soon after Laloo left Sonia's home dropping hints that the stalemate was over, the Congress' Margaret Alva and Ahmed Patel headed to Pawar's official residence nearby to announce the agreement along with Praful. In the 43-member ministry, the Congress will have 19 slots, including the chief minister's post, and the NCP 24.

However, the joint announcement maintained some ambiguity over the choice for chief minister. Outgoing Congress chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde is widely known to be the NCP's favourite, but Alva and Ahmed refused to make any commitment.

Congress sources said late tonight that two Maratha leaders ' former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and Pathangrao Kadam ' have thrown their hats into the ring. Shinde, a Dalit leader, has the support of the high command but a section of the state leadership has been pushing for a more assertive nominee to counter Pawar's stature.

The leader would be chosen at the Congress legislature party meeting scheduled in Mumbai on Friday. The NCP, too, will meet the same day to elect its legislature party leader.

The agreement came as an anti-climax for the NCP state leaders who were called to Delhi. Questions were raised whether the NCP secured anything substantial after prolonging the negotiations for many days.

Pawar blinked first this Sunday when the NCP gave up the demand for the chief minister's post. On Tuesday, the NCP dropped another demand ' the revenue and cooperative portfolios.

By this afternoon, the party climbed down from the stand that it should be given a second deputy chief minister's post.

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