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|October 9, 1999||
Bhosale speaks to Bhujbal, seeks support
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay
In an apparent bid to prevent the ruling Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party alliance from coming back to power, the Congress today opened a channel of communication with its breakaway group - the Nationalist Congress Party - to form a viable and stable coalition government in Maharashtra.
Despite a flutter of political activity in the state capital, the impasse over the formation of a new government continued. The Congress having staked its claim first, is now busy negotiating with other ''secular'' parties. Sources said the party high command has authorised the state leaders to take their own decisions.
Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president Prataprao Bhosale today spoke to the state NCP president, Chhagan Bhujbal, and other senior NCP leaders like Madhukarrao Pichad and Dr Padamsinh Patil and asked them to support his party's attempt to form the government.
He also dispatched a formal letter seeking the NCP support to Bhujbal. The letter requested the NCP state leaders to attend a meeting with some Congress leaders to decide the future course of action.
Speaking to rediff.com Madhukar Pichad, leader of opposition in the outgoing state assembly said: "They have send us a letter and asked us to meet their leaders. Will take a decision after meeting our senior leaders." However, he clarified that the letter states that the meeting would take place only between the state leaders and that senior leaders like Madhavrao Scindia and Sharad Pawar would not be in attendance.
Though Bhujbal confirmed his telephonic conversation with Bhosale, he expressed displeasure over the way the Congress has approached Governor Dr P C Alexander and staked claim to form the next government without consulting his party.
''You cannot take us for granted. All our alliance partners, including the Janata Dal (secular) and the Samajwadi Party, are upset,'' he said.
The NCP leaders are also upset over some statements issued by senior Congress leaders that Sharad Pawar should apologise for raising the issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origins. ''When you are talking of an alliance these issues should be kept aside... The congress leadership should refrain from making such statements,'' he said.
Even if the Congress (75) and the NCP (58) decide to join hands they will fall 10 MLAs short of the 145 mark. This is when the NCP's pre-poll allies - the Samajwadi Party and the Janata Dal (secular) - each with two MLAs, will come in handy.
The Republican Party of India (Ambedkar), a pre-poll ally of the Congress, has three MLAs. Also, the Peasants and Workers' Party, which has five MLAs, has already gone on record saying that it would not support the Sena-BJP combine.
And if comes to the crunch, as it is likely to, both the Congress and the NCP can bank on some of their friends among the 12 independents.
Interestingly, though Pawar and Madhavrao Scindia are coming from New Delhi tonight they are not scheduled to meet.
Today being amavasya (no-moon day) both the parties were reluctant to take any decision. Same was the case with the Sena-BJP leaders who did not elect their leader and left the decision to Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Sena chief Bal Thackeray.
The Sena-BJP combine, meanwhile, was confident that the governor would invite them to form the government. "After the last assembly elections, the Congress was the single largest party but still the governor invited the Sena-BJP combine to form the government," said Bombay unit president of the BJP, Kirit Somaiya
Shiv Sena has won 69 assembly seats, whereas the BJP has won 56. Their total tally of 125 is 20 seats short of the magical figure of 145.
"So far we have not staked claim to form the government. But, the governor knows that as a pre-poll alliance we are the largest group in the assembly. We have a much better chance of forming the government," said Sharadbhau Kulkarni, state general secretary of the BJP.
Unlike last time the Sena has only 6 independent MLAs this time, including the party rebel Babanrao Gholap. Gholap was present at today's meeting at the Sena Bhavan and his re-entry into the party seems be a mere formality now.
Another rumour floating has it that Pawar's NCP would join the Sena-BJP as the third party and as a quid-pro-quo eith Pawar or Purno Sangma would be given the deputy prime minister's post at the Centre. Senior leaders of both the parties, however, have denied this possibility.
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