New Delhi: Talks between the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress in Maharashtra are facing hurdles as the NCP is seeking a larger number of seats for the Assembly elections to be held later this year in the state.

According to sources, the NCP and Congress are yet to break the deadlock as the NCP is demanding a larger share of seats out of total 288 Assembly seats, especially in Pune where it wants to contest on all the eight seats, while the Congress is firm on its demand for an equal distribution of seats.

In the recently concluded polls, both Congress and NCP were routed by the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. The Congress managed to win only one seat, while NCP bagged four seats. Due to this victory on four seats, NCP thinks that it is in a better situation than the Congress in the state.

Ever since its inception in 1999, the NCP has been in power in Maharashtra, but since the last five years, the party has been struggling to remain relevant in its home turf. The NCP had won 58 of the total 288 seats in the 1999 Assembly elections, fighting both the Congress and the BJP-Shiv Sena combine. In the 2014 Assembly elections, the NCP won a mere 41 seats, the Congress won 42. After 2014, there has been a consistent shift of NCP leaders and workers to the BJP or the Shiv Sena. Last month, media reports appeared about the NCP’s likely merger with the Congress. The NCP had rejected the speculation.

A source close to Maharashtra Congress told The Sunday Guardian: “In principle, both the NCP and Congress are ready to form an Opposition alliance against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena coalition in Maharashtra, but both the parties have not reached any agreement over a seat-sharing formula. Both Congress and NCP have locked horns over the distribution of seats in Pune where NCP doesn’t want to concede any extra seat to the Congress, while the Congress wants an equal share of seats in Pune as well as in the rest of the state.”

As per sources, a section of Congress leaders are pushing the party leaders for breaking ties with the NCP and to bring the Prakash Ambedkar-led Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) on board. “At a recently held meeting where Congress old guard Mallikarjun Kharge was present, the party leaders from Northern Maharashtra and Marathwada brought up the demand for calling off ties with the NCP and stressed on forming an alliance with the VBA. Several state unit Congress leaders present at the meeting alleged that the party has gained nothing in the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls and thus it should stay away from joining hands with the NCP,” the same source cited above said.

Sources said that both the NCP and Congress have started poll preparations and senior leaders from both the parties are holding separate meetings with their district level leaders and asking them to start poll preparations.

A senior NCP leader told The Sunday Guardian: “Last week, NCP president Sharad Pawar initiated a meeting with district presidents of the party where he reviewed the results of the recently concluded Lok Sabha polls and gave a call for poll preparations. The meeting was attended by former parliamentarians, legislators, office bearers, members of civic bodies and heads of the party’s various cells. The NCP president did not talk about the alliance with Congress in the meeting.”  Similarly, the Congress has also been holding meetings separately with their party workers, but it has always conveyed to its state unit leaders that there will be an alliance with NCP.

However, political observers have said that there is no option for the Congress and NCP in the state other than to form an alliance. They said that the Congress-NCP will face a robust BJP-Shiv Sena alliance in the Assembly polls. The ruling alliance is already high on confidence due to its landslide victory in the Lok Sabha polls and, in this scenario, the Congress and NCP will have to form an alliance. Speaking on the alliance formation issue, NCP leader Majeed Memon said: “It’s the demand of the time to have an Opposition alliance and there should not be any doubt that Congress and NCP will contest the Assembly polls together in Maharashtra. Leaders from both the parties are in touch to discuss issues.”

“Senior leaders from Congress and NCP have held several rounds of meetings to discuss the seat-sharing formula. We hope that soon, the alliance will reach some kind of seat-sharing arrangement,” Menon said.


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