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NCP moots 50:50 formula

New Delhi, July 26: Sharad Pawar’s NCP has formally conveyed to the Congress leadership that only a 50:50 formula would be acceptable when tickets are distributed for the coming Assembly elections in Maharashtra as the allies geared for tough bargaining over seats.

In the 2009 state election, the Congress had contested 174 of the 288 seats, and the NCP 114.

This time the NCP has asked for 144, citing the Congress’s diminished clout, reflected in the 44 seats it won in the recent Lok Sabha election. The Congress won only two Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra while the NCP managed four.

D.P. Tripathi, NCP general secretary and spokesperson, spoke of “new” realities, saying “2014 is not 2009”.

“We are a bigger party than the Congress, having won four Lok Sabha seats in May. How can the Congress make a claim on the basis of the 2009 equation? The Congress should accept the new realities,” Tripathi told The Telegraph.

Congress leaders rejected the contention, saying one election debacle could not undermine the party’s status. They also said the Congress remained the biggest party in the Maharashtra Assembly.

Even in the Lok Sabha election, the Congress had got 18 per cent of the votes in Maharashtra, two per cent more than the NCP.

Congress leaders are confident the alliance would hold for the elections, due later this year, and dismiss the current impasse as a normal bargaining ploy on the part of the NCP. However, a new factor that has emerged in the Congress-NCP relationship is the antagonistic approach of chief minister Prithviraj Chavan towards Pawar. Sources say Chavan has toughened his stand on the NCP after the failed attempt to replace him as chief minister.

NCP sources contest the perception that Pawar wanted him removed and asserts that the Congress changed its mind after taking the decision to replace the chief minister. “It is all the outcome of Congress indecision and bungling,” an NCP leader said. “They have ended up further weakening an already weak CM. Now we are doomed to suffer the ill-effects of his poor leadership at the election.”

Chavan had said a few days ago: “The alliance will continue only if an honourable agreement on seat-sharing is reached. There will not be any compromise on the party’s self-respect.”

State unit chief Manik Thakre said: “We will never agree to give 144 seats to the NCP. During our talks, NCP leaders put their claim at 144 seats, saying their strength in the state had increased. We do not accept this. Congress workers should keep themselves ready to contest all the 288 seats.”

The Congress high command is not in favour of going alone at this critical juncture and may yield a few more seats to the NCP during the tough bargaining that has become a regular feature of their relationship. But accepting the 50:50 formula looks impossible.