Mumbai: With the Lok Sabha and state assembly elections looming ahead, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) have begun preliminary talks on seat-sharing. For the assembly poll, the Sharad Pawar-led NCP has demanded the Congress must share at least 50 per cent seats. However, neither the state nor the central leadership of the Congress agreed with the NCP’s demand.
The Congress and the NCP held two meetings in the last two months on poll strategy, with the consensus being they would contest LS and assembly polls as allies. Ashok Chavan, president of the Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee and Jayant Patil, state president of the NCP, had already announced they would jointly contest against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Shiv Sena government. “All non-BJP parties will be invited to join the Congress-NCP alliance to battle against the ruling government,” Chavan had said.
On Thursday, Chavan and Patil held an unofficial meeting, to discuss assembly constituencies to be swapped between both the parties.
According to a Congress insider, “It is the general practice in any political alliance for the party with the sitting legislator to retain that particular constituency. So naturally, the Congress and NCP will stake claim on their winning constituencies in the 2014 assembly poll. The issue is about the remaining constituencies of the total 288.”
While the Congress currently has 42 legislators, the NCP has 41 legislators in the state assembly. In the 2014 poll, the parties had contested separately. In 2004 and 2009, the Congress-NCP seat-sharing formula was 174-114 respectively. “Having learnt their lessons after their rout in the 2014 poll by contesting separately, leaders of both parties have decided to join hands,” said the Congress insider. “There are some differences between both party leaders over some constituencies. Like Indapur and Ahmednagar city constituencies, which were earlier in the Congress quota but the NCP won it in the 2014 poll. Though there is mutual understanding that the party with the sitting legislator retains the constituency, the Congress cannot ignore senior party leader Harshwardhan Patil from Indapur who lost the election in 2014. The Congress has a claim on Indapur and cannot share it with the NCP. This could become a sticking point during negotiations,” the leader claimed.
An NCP insider said, “We have an almost equal number of legislators in the assembly. On the other hand, we have four Members of Parliament (MPs) whereas the Congress has only two. So, it is our right to ask for 50 per cent of the seats in the next election. In the current political situation, our demand is appropriate.”
The Congress leader, however clarified, the decision to ally has been taken by Congress president Rahul Gandhi and NCP chief Sharad Pawar. “Hence, if there is a dispute over some seats, it will be sorted out by the central leadership but the alliance will not be broken over any issue,” he said. “Let us finalise the seat-sharing formula between us, as it may be 60:40 or 55:45, then talks on every single constituency will begin,” he said.