Mumbai: Despite the tag of being an
"uneasy" alliance, the Congress-NCP coalition in Maharashtra
proved too good for the Shiv Sena-BJP combine, pulling off a
hat-trick in the key western state in the first major test of
popularity after the Lok Sabha elections.
The state`s ruling coalition partners entered into an
electoral pact after a prolonged stand-off and hard bargaining
that continued even after the process of filing of nominations
had started, in what many had dubbed as yet another marriage
Notwithstanding the durability of the decade-old
alliance, bitterness crept in when buoyed by its performance
in the Lok Sabha elections a section of the state Congress
led by former Chief Minister and Union Minister Vilasrao
Deshmukh made a strong pitch for going it alone in the
The Congress had won 17 of state`s 48 LS seats against
Rubbing salt to the wound inflicted by a dismal
showing at the hustings, AICC general secretary Digvijay Singh
suggested merger of the NCP with Congress due to the
`commonality of DNA` and as the issue of Sonia Gandhi`s
foreign origin, on which Sharad Pawar-led party was born, was
no longer relevant.
The NCP leadership, including Pawar did not take
kindly to the suggestion and declared their intention to keep
alive their separate entity.
The Congress upped the ante and began haggling for a
larger share of seats in the Assembly elections on the ground
that it had led in 81 Assembly segments against 50 of NCP in
the Lok Sabha elections.
As the Congress insisted on a greater share in the
electoral pie in the light of its improved showing in the LS
polls, the seat-sharing talks that began quite late dragged
After prolonged posturing which saw both parties
declare their readiness to go it alone, a seat-sharing formula
was finally arrived at with NCP agreeing to contest 114 seats,
10 less than 2004. However, to NCP`s consternation, Digvijay
Singh was appointed Congress` pointsman and assigned the task
of coordinating between the two parties.
Despite being pushed on the backfoot by an aggressive
Congress, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar plunged into a joint
campaign with the party.
When senior NCP leader and Deputy Chief Minister
Chhagan Bhujbal mooted a repeat of Jammu and Kashmir
experiment of rotational chief ministership, he promptly
dismissed it, saying the top job will go to the Congress.
"We gave chief ministership to the Congress in 2004
despite winning 71 seats against 69 pocketed by them. They are
the senior partner contesting many more seats than us and
would naturally win more. The Chief Minister has to be of the
Congress," Pawar declared.
Pawar, one of the tallest leaders in Maharashtra, has
shown remarkable resilience and rare survival instinct in his
political career marked by love-hate relationship with the
NCP`s earlier incarnation Congress(S) came into being
in 1978 when Pawar with 18 MLAs broke away from the Urs
Congress formed post-emergency by those opposed to Indira
Gandhi. Forging an alliance with Janata Party and Peasants and
Workers Party, he formed a coalition government of Progressive
Democratic Front (PDF) that year. The Congress(S) later merged
with Congress (I), as Congress was then known, in 1986.
Pawar again became Chief Minister in 1988, 1990 and
1993 as he grew in stature given his political and
The Maratha strongman, however, broke away from the
Congress on the question of Sonia`s foreign origin and floated
NCP in 1999.
Displaying pragmatism which has been his hallmark,
Pawar formed a government after the Assembly elections in
Maharashtra along with the Congress in 1999, the year he
floated his new party.
In 2004, the two parties decided to contest the
April-May Lok Sabha elections and Assembly polls in October
unitedly, a move that was convenient to both Sonia, who wanted
to ensure Congress` comeback to power at the Centre and Pawar,
who sought to play a larger role in national politics and a
share in power for his supporters back home.
The alliance continued in the Lok Sabha and Assembly
elections this year.