India

"Stable Government Soon In Maharashtra": Congress After Sharad Pawar Meet

New Delhi: 

The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) today appeared close to sealing an alliance with the Shiv Sena to form a government in Maharashtra, hours after a meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and NCP chief Sharad Pawar raised questions about a BJP master manoeuvre. 

An alliance seemed to be taking shape as top Congress leaders held discussions with the NCP at Sharad Pawar's home while a senior Congress leader separately met the Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut. Congress sources said their leader Sonia Gandhi "is positive" on government formation.

Sonia Gandhi had been reluctant to join hands with the ideologically contrasting and pro-Hindutva Shiv Sena, which fell out with long-time ally BJP over power-sharing after the two won the Maharashtra election together.

According to the deal in circulation, the Shiv Sena has to share chief ministership with the NCP, with its chief Uddhav Thackeray getting the first turn. Other details include two deputy chief ministers, one from the Congress.

A coordination committee to find common ground between the vastly mismatched parties is also part of the deal. The Shiv Sena may also be asked to tone down its Hindutva rhetoric, which is anathema to the Congress. Earlier today, Sonia Gandhi was urged by Kerala ally Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) to snub the Sena.

Sources say what may have precipitated the Congress's decision is the meeting between PM Modi and Sharad Pawar this afternoon and reports that the NCP chief has been offered the post of President by the BJP in a track running parallel to the Sena-NCP-Congress talks. Two days ago, the PM had significantly praised the NCP during a debate in the Rajya Sabha.

The PM-Sharad Pawar meeting was ostensibly on the farm crisis in Maharashtra, but the 45-minute discussion also telegraphed a strong message to the Congress - that any more dilly-dallying could prove costly and the opportunity of ruling India's commercial hub would be lost. After the meeting, Mr Pawar even tweeted about inviting PM Modi to a conference.

NCP sources said it was time for the Congress to decide as time was limited.

Last week, the Sena broke up with long-term partner BJP over its demand for rotational chief ministership and pulled out its only minister in PM Modi's government, stopping short of exiting the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Sena was about to stake claim to power when the Congress pulled back at the last minute, declaring in a press statement that it needed more discussions with Sharad Pawar. 

With the top three parties failing to produce letters of support, Maharashtra was placed under President's Rule.

A week later on Monday, Mr Pawar met with Sonia Gandhi in Delhi and repeated to the media that "more meetings" would take place. 

A desperate Sena displayed optimism even after cryptic comments from the NCP chief, who is a veteran at deal-making without letting on much. 

"All obstacles that were raised in the last 10-15 days have been cleared. By tomorrow you will know that all obstacles have been cleared," Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut told reporters today.

Mr Raut also asserted that a Sena-led alliance would be in power by the first week of December and it would be stable.

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