Maharashtra Congress leaders
Maharashtra Congress leaders

New Delhi: The Congress on Monday held marathon discussions and a meeting of the party's highest decision-making body, the Congress Working Committee, but remained indecisive on whether to support a Shiv Sena-led government in Maharashtra.

After hours of deliberations, the Congress decided to hold further talks with ally Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), while keeping its options open on participation in the new government.

This comes after Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari refused further time to Shiv Sena after its deadline to form a government ended at 7.30 PM on Monday. He has now given 24 hours time to the NCP to form a government.

"The Congress president (Sonia Gandhi) has spoken to Sharad Pawarji. The party will have further discussions with the NCP," a statement issued by Congress general secretary K C Venugopal said after the second meeting of Congress leaders.

After two crucial meetings, the top leaders of the party preferred to have a detailed discussions with the NCP on the political impasse in the state.

"The Congress Working Committee met this morning and held a detailed discussion on the situation in Maharashtra after which a consultation was held with Maharashtra Congress leaders," the statement further said.

In a telephonic conversation with Sonia Gandhi, Shiv Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray sought her party's support to form government, but she did not commit anything to him, the sources said.

"No letter of support has been given to the Shiv Sena over government formation. The Congress has not taken any decision on supporting the Shiv Sena on government formation," Venugopal told PTI.

Asked about the telephonic conversation between Sonia Gandhi and Thackeray, he said it was a "courtesy call" and only pleasantries were exchanged but no commitment was made.

Sonia Gandhi is learnt to have told Thackeray that she is yet to talk to Congress MLAs in the state and no decision has been taken yet on whether to lend support to the Sena, the sources said.

The Sena is the second largest party in the 288-member House with 56 MLAs after the BJP (105).

The CWC, comprising the top party brass, first discussed the issue on whether to extend support to the Shiv Sena and later decided to hold further discussions with state leaders on the issue. The CWC meeting did not take any decision in the morning and deferred it till evening.

After the second meeting with Maharashtra Congress leaders, the party decided to defer its decision again till further talks with NCP leaders.

Sources said that a section within the party is against extending support to the Shiv Sena which is ideologically opposite to it and the party fears suffering electoral losses in future if it is seen supporting an extreme right-wing outfit like Sena.

Insiders say the Congress is still mulling the pros and cons of support to the Sena as its party MLAs are keen to have a say in the government and do not want fresh election.

AICC general secretary in-charge for Maharashtra Mallikarjun Kharge said further discussions with NCP leaders would be held tomorrow in Mumbai. He also read out the Congress statement.

Top Congress leaders including former Maharashtra chief ministers Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chavan and Sushilkumar Shinde as well as state unit chief Balasaheb Thorat, Manickrao Thackeray, Rajni Patil met Sonia Gandhi in the evening and shared their views on the issue.

Earlier in the morning, all senior members of the Congress Working Committee (CWC) met at Gandhi's residence. However, the meeting was inconclusive and the party leadership decided to meet again at 4 pm, amid indications that the legislators were not in favour of fresh elections in the state.

Senior leaders A K Antony, Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge, K C Venugopal also attended the meeting in the evening.

Former Maharashtra chief minister Prithviraj Chavan said no decision has been taken on whether to support Shiv Sena in Maharashtra. He also denied that the party had taken any in-principle decision to support Sena, which Aditya Thackeray claimed.

"Neither ours nor NCP's letter has gone to the Maharashtra Governor yet. Two leaders will be sent for further discussions with Sharad Pawar. The next step will be taken after the discussions," said Manikrao Thackeray.

Senior Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut on Monday said there was no point in continuing its alliance with the BJP if it was not willing to fulfil its promise of sharing the chief minister's post in Maharashtra.

Reaching out to the opposition parties, Raut said the Congress and the NCP should bury their internal differences to come up with a 'common minimum programme' in the interest of Maharashtra.

Sena leader Arvind Sawant, the lone party minister in the Narendra Modi cabinet, has announced his decision to quit the NDA government at the Centre.

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