No Marathi PM for now

NEW DELHI: Congress and Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) announced a 26:22 seat-sharing agreement for Maharashtra on Monday. The announcement, which came after days of suspense, saw NCP getting one seat more than it did in 2004.

Congress leader AK Antony said that the “two parties will fight unitedly as alliance partners.” Reiterating that the two parties would contest together, NCP’s Praful Patel said, “We are in alliance and we will support each other. There will be no friendly fights and Congress and NCP will have a joint campaign.” Leaders of both parties were evasive on whether the alliance would also extend to other states like Goa and Gujarat. “We have right now finalised seat-sharing in Maharashtra,” Mr Antony said

Even though the seats have been finalised, there is still a possibility of an exchange, “based on mutual request”. Sidestepping queries about the third front, Mr Patel said: “We have been a part of the UPA for the last five years, and we have chosen to be with Congress in these elections. We are in an alliance with Congress. We shall stand by the alliance and support fully all the candidates. There is not to have any other understanding.” Mr Patel also dismissed the issue of Mr Pawar’s projection as the prime minister. The Union minister said that his party chief has already clarified that NCP was a small party and “there is no need of words-splitting.”

Mr Patel as well as Mr Antony said that the request for exchanging seats was being taken under consideration and the process will be complete in the next one or two days. Among the seats that are being considered for exchange is Osmanabad in Marathwada. The seat, which is a bone of contention, is currently in NCP kitty. Both parties said they will hold discussions on exchange of few seats in the next two days. Former Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh is keen on contesting Osmanabad. Congress therefore has asked NCP to give the seat and take Jalna instead. NCP is keen on fielding controversial ex-minister Padamsinh Patil, who is related to party chief Sharad Pawar, from Osmanabad.

As for seat allocation for the Republican Party of India (RPI), Mr Patel said: “We couldn’t have held talks with others till things between Congress and NCP were sorted out”. It is believed that both Congress and NCP will give up one seat each to accommodate RPI. Both leaders said that they will “take a decision very shortly and we want to take our friends with us.” On the issue of accommodating SP in Maharashtra, both leaders were once again evasive.