9 Independent MLAs back Cong
New Delhi, October 20
With both Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) citing numbers to claim the top job, the matter will now be taken up only after Dussehra. The talks were put on hold when neither side showed any signs of resiling from their respective positions.
Several formulae have been suggested but none have been found acceptable. There is one proposal that the chief ministership be rotated between the two parties. However, the sticking point here is as to who will head the government first. The Congress has said it will be willing to relinquish the post if Mr Sharad Pawar moves to the state. Mr Pawar has rejected this suggestion.
AICC sources also maintain that Mr Pawar is personally not averse to Mr Sushil Kumar Shinde’s continuance as the Chief Minister as he would not like to give the post to a Maratha, which he would be compelled to do if the post comes to the NCP. It is feared that the new incumbent could become a rival power centre. Mr Pawar, however, is learnt to be under pressure from his cadres who do not want him to give in to the Congress.
With both sides claiming the Chief Minister’s post on the basis of their respective numerical strength, the Congress continued to play the numbers game today in its effort to mount pressure on the NCP into conceding the post to them. Nine Independent legislators, who have agreed to support the Congress, were presented before party President Sonia Gandhi this evening. They were accompanied by Union Minister Prithviraj Chavan and Mr Kripa Shankar, Home Minister in the outgoing Maharashtra Government.
Formal talks will now be resumed after Union Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, the key Congress negotiator, returns from Puja celebrations in West Bengal on October 23. The Congress and the NCP are hoping that this three-day break will help evolve a consensus. As it is, the tussle between the two alliance partners has cast a shadow on the ruling combine’s victory.
NCP leaders stated as the single largest party, they had first claim on the Chief Minister’s post. There has been no change in their position, it was stated and this has conveyed to the Congress leaders. “The ball is now in the Congress court,” said a senior NCP leader.
AICC leaders, on the other hand, maintained that with the addition of these MLAs, the Congress has further gone up, making it the single largest party in the new Assembly. The Congress maintains it is the rightful claimant for the chief ministership as the electoral victory is an endorsement of the Chief Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde’s government.