The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maharashtra see-saw

New Delhi, Oct. 25: The Congress and the NCP today came tantalisingly close to ending the Maharashtra stalemate, but were forced to put on hold a give-and-take deal.

Under the agreement that was almost made public, the NCP leadership, which has been insisting on the chief minister's chair, is learnt to have agreed to concede the top post to the Congress, the junior partner in terms of the number of MLAs.

The understanding was that the Congress would then re-elect outgoing chief minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

Anticipating a 'package of concessions' from the Congress, the NCP leadership had made preparations to make an announcement in the evening. Ahmed Patel, the political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi, was expected to convey his party's 'offer' to NCP leader Praful Patel late in the afternoon.

However, Praful could not carry the final 'offer' with him when he went to NCP chief Sharad Pawar's 6 Janpath official residence late in the evening. That there was no breakthrough became evident when Pawar left his residence to attend Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan's iftar without addressing a scheduled media conference.

Emerging from Pawar's residence, Praful said the NCP leadership had not yet taken a 'final decision on the Congress party's proposal'.

On Sunday, the Congress had offered the NCP three additional berths ' two of cabinet rank and one of minister of state rank ' in the 43-member ministry and two extra portfolios.

If the offer comes through, the NCP will have 15 cabinet ministers and nine ministers of state, while the Congress will have 12 and six, respectively.

The NCP leadership is understood to be pressing for two deputy chief minister posts ' one for incumbent Vijaysinh Mohite-Patil and the other presumably for facilitating the return of former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal. The demand for two deputy chief minister slots is not seen as a big hindrance.

The NCP has apparently sought an additional berth in the Manmohan Singh ministry to accommodate Tariq Anwar, who had walked out of the Congress along with Pawar and P.A. Sangma.

Besides, the NCP is believed to be seeking an assurance from the Congress that it would fully back Pawar if the Supreme Court orders fresh elections to the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).

The hearing on the September elections, which Pawar lost by a casting vote, is scheduled to resume tomorrow.

However, the NCP leadership denied that it is bargaining for anything beyond Maharashtra.

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