Setting the tone for talks with Shiv Sena on government formation in Maharashtra, the Congress and NCP have said the Sena must agree and sign off on a common minimum programme (CMP).
At the Congress-NCP meeting, attended by senior state leaders from both sides, sources said NCP chief Sharad Pawar shot down the option of Congress backing a Sena-NCP formation from outside. “He made it clear that all three parties will have to be part of the government,” a senior leader said.
According to sources, Pawar argued this is the only way a stable alternative non-BJP formation can come up in the state. Congress leader Ahmed Patel, who landed in Mumbai with Mallikarjun Kharge and K C Venugopal, then raised the issue of CMP. “Unless the roadmap and the modalities of governing the state are finalised, the Congress will not be in a position to give such an assurance,” Ahmed is learnt to have conveyed, sources said.
A pre-condition both Congress and NCP want the Sena to clarify publicly is the latter’s stance on development of minorities. “We will go ahead without compromising our secular credentials,” Pawar told the conference, the sources said.
On top of this, the Congress is clear the CMP must include some of the key agenda items in its poll manifesto including farm loan waiver, unemployment allowance, and job quota for local youth in new industries.
Sources said Pawar then rang up Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray from inside the meeting and raise these demands. With Thackeray not averse to the idea, it was decided that the two allies will first evolve consensus over the CMP and other issues amongst themselves before raising it with the Shiv Sena.
Senior Congress sources also indicated the party was unwilling to play “third fiddle” to the Sena and NCP if the three parties were to form a coalition government. They said the party would push for equitable distribution of power, which could turn out to be a bone of contention even with the NCP. In the election, Sena won 56 seats, NCP 54, and Congress 44.
With a combined tally of 154, they cross the half-way mark of 144. On Monday, Thackeray, who had a fallout with longstanding ally BJP, had formally approached the Congress and NCP for support to form the government in Maharashtra.
While the Sena had failed in its bid to get the letter of support from the two parties before the Monday evening deadline set by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, both the parties Tuesday set the ball rolling for further dialogue with Thackeray’s party regarding government formation.
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But with the Sena and the two parties having diametrically opposite views on several issues, the Congress and NCP have put the CMP as the pre-condition for joining hands with the Sena.
Following deliberations held between Pawar and Congress president Sonia Gandhi,the latter on Tuesday sent Patel and two other party general secretaries Kharge and Venugopal to Mumbai for further discussions with the NCP president.
At a joint press conference staged on the sidelines of the meeting, Ahmed Patel said, “We will first have a consensus amongst us (between Congress, NCP) and then hold discussions with the Shiv Sena. When three parties are to come together, there are many points to be discussed. Till a broader consensus is evolved on these points, how can we go ahead with any government formation.” For the Maharashtra assembly poll, the Congress and NCP had come up with a joint manifesto.
That the dialogue process might take a while was indicated after sources said the next meeting between the two sides over the issue could take place after three-four days. Pawar is expected to fly to Delhi for further discussions.