Cong-NCP alliance too good for SS-BJP combine in Maha
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Last Updated: Thursday, October 22, 2009, 20:52
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 of convenience.

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 Assembly polls.

The Congress had won 17 of state's 48 LS seats against NCP's 08.

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 on.

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 Congress.

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 administrative acumen.

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.

Bureau Report

First Published: Thursday, October 22, 2009, 20:52

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