M A I N   N E W S

Final decision likely today
Maharashtra CM’s post
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, October 23
Although discussions between the Congress and the NCP on the issue of Maharashtra chief ministership have reached a crucial stage, there was no final decision on the matter till late tonight.

A series of meetings were held throughout the day as Congress leaders and the NCP, who are both claiming the Chief Minister’s post, tried to narrow down their differences and arrive at a consensus. A final decision is now expected to be formalised tomorrow.

Emerging from a late night meeting at Congress President Sonia Gandhi’s residence, AICC general secretary Margaret Alva admitted that both sides had come up with specific proposals to break the deadlock but no “final conclusion had been arrived at”.

She said they had briefed Mrs Gandhi about the NCP’s proposal and the sentiments of the Maharashtra leaders. She, in turn, had given them specific instructions on this issue, she said. Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee, who is the Congress party’s chief negotiator, will now convey these to the NCP leaders.

When the two parties began discussions today after a three-day Dasehra break, it seemed the stalemate could even end tonight as the Congress was eager to resolve this issue at the earliest. By the end of the day, however, it appeared that both sides were bargaining hard with the NCP and the Congress fighting for the Chief Minister’s post.

Although neither side said so on record, the AICC and the NCP sources said the Congress had suggested that the two parties share the chief ministership on a rotational basis. Alternatively, the Congress was willing to concede more ministries to the NCP provided the top post went to their party.

NCP interlocutor Praful Patel, who was closeted with senior Congress leaders for over two hours earlier this evening at Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee’s residence, was non-committal about an early solution. NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who was briefed by Mr Patel about these deliberations, told presspersons later that they had not received any concrete suggestions from the Congress.

On the NCP’s part, he said, there was no dilution in its earlier stand. “We have two proposals. As the larger party, we have the first claim on the chief ministership. If not, we will lend outside support to the Congress government,” Mr Pawar said. He categorically denied that either side had suggested having a Chief Minister on rotation basis.

Senior Congress leaders, including Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mr Arjun Singh, Mr Ahmed Patel and Mrs Margaret Alva, along with Maharashtra leaders held lengthy discussions tonight at Mr Mukherjee’s residence. Mr Praful Patel dropped in to give them a message but did not stay for more than 10 minutes.

In fact, there was a flurry of activity throughout the day. With Mr Mukherjee, Congress’s chief negotiator, returning to Delhi from Kolkata this morning, party President Sonia Gandhi first held consultations with her senior colleagues, Mr Mukherjee, Mr Ahmed Patel, Mr Arjun Singh and Mr Azad, at her residence. This was followed by a lengthier meeting at Mr Mukherjee’s residence which was attended by the same senior Congress leaders and NCP negotiator Praful Patel.

Mr Patel and Mrs Alva maintained that discussions between the two parties were continuing and a final decision would be announced by tomorrow morning.

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