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October 10, 1999


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Stalemate in Maharashtra continues

Special Correspondent in Bombay

The stalemate over who would form the next government in Maharashtra continues. Parleys between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party has failed to produce concrete results yet. The NCP has asked for the chief minister's post, which the Congress is very reluctant to concede.

Highly placed sources told that given the extent of suspicions and bad blood between the two parties nothing short of a one-to-one meeting between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and NCP leaders Sharad Pawar and P A Sangma will bridge the divide and lead to an arrangement to jointly rule Maharashtra.

It is not smooth sailing in the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party camp either. The alliance leaders are not sure about how, if at all, to cobble together a majority. Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan reportedly advocated wooing the NCP but Thackeray and Co are anathema to such a recourse. The latter are believed to be trying to split the NCP, though it is extremely doubtful at this stage, whether it will even remotely succeed.

Meanwhile, senior Shiv Sena leader and Chief Minister Narayan Rane was today elected as the Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party legislature party leader and will stake the claim of the alliance tomorrow to form the next government in Maharashtra.

Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray today approved the name of Rane as the joint legislature party leader of the alliance in Maharashtra. Rane, who assumed the office of the chief minister in February, won the assembly elections from the Malwan constituency.

After being re-elected as the Sena-BJP leader in the assembly, Rane said that the alliance will stake its claim to form the government tomorrow. Earlier in the day, Rane met Thackeray at the latter's residence Matoshree, and held prolonged discussions about forming the next alliance government in the state.

''The people of Maharashtra have given their mandate in favour of the Sena-BJP coalition and it is our moral responsibility to form the next government in the state,'' Rane said, adding that the alliance has got the support of independents and ''other parties'' and would easily be able to form the next government.

Yesterday the alliance partners met at Sena Bhavan in central Bombay and left the decision of electing the leader to Vajpayee and Thackeray. Last night Pramod Mahajan met Thackeray and left for the capital early this morning.

On the other side, Vilasrao Deshmukh was unanimously elected as the Congress Legislature Party leader today after day-long consultations with the newly-elected MLAs and senior party leaders Madhav Rao Scindia and All India Congres Committee observer for Maharashtra and former Union minister Mohsina Kidwai.

Soon after being elected as the CLP leader, Deshmukh thanked Sonia Gandhi for reposing faith in him and said that he would do everything to keep intact the trust and expectations by the party leadership and the people of the state.

''We would welcome support from like-minded and secular parties,'' Scindia said earlier, adding, ''we have a frame of mind and discussions are on in this regard.''

'' Aapsi hitoh se upar uthkae ham sarkar banane ki koshish kar rahen hain ''(we are trying to form a government, rising above selfish motives), the senior leader said. On being asked whether the party will seek an apology from the Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar for raising the issue of the foreign origin of Sonia Gandhi, he said, ''formation of a secular government in Maharashtra is the top most priority.''

To a query, Scindia answered, ''we have emerged as the single largest party and we will maintain dignity and self-respect.'' When pointed out that the NCP may also enter into a dialogue with the BJP, he said, ''I do not have any information about that.'' When asked what would happen if the Congress fails to form a government with the NCP, he said, ''we are always ready to accept and respect the mandate of the public.''

On being asked whether he would be meeting Sharad Pawar, Scindia said, ''as of yet no appointment is fixed. But I do not rule out meeting Pawar.''

Meanwhile, senior Congress leaders including MPCC president Prataprao Bhosale, Congress media publicity in-charge in the state Suresh Kalmadi and NCP state president Chhagan Bhujbal, former leader of the opposition in the state assembly Madhukarrao Pichad and former ministers Padamsinh Patil and Vijaysingh Mohite-Patil would hold a second round of talks late in the evening. The time and venue of the meeting has been kept secret.

The Congress has already staked its claim to form the government. Bhosale had led a delegation to meet the Governor Dr P C Alexander.

Sharad Pawar arrived in Bombay tonight to hold consultations with his party colleagues.

Pawar will meet party leaders tomorrow at A-10, Madam Cama Road, near Mantralaya, the official residence of the leader of the opposition in the state legislative council and state NCP president Chhagan Bhujbal. Former leader of the opposition in the state legislative assembly Madhukarrao Pichad and other senior leaders will be present at the meeting.

Even as the power struggle for the formation of the new government in Maharashtra continued, the Janata Dal-Secular and the Peasants and Workers Party who had parted ways before the election joined hands once again to form a secular and Left Progressive Democratic Front.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the PWP, JD-S, the Samajwadi Party and the Communist Party of India-Marxist in Bombay today. The front has 11 MLAs and it has resolved to strive for ushering in a secular and progressive government which gives priority to social justice.

Meanwhile, the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh, an ally of the Congress party has elected Makhram Pawar, MLC, as the leader of the BBM legislative group which has three newly elected members. The party met today to review the political situation in the state. Prakash Ambedkar, party MP from Akola was also present. It resolved to support a secular government with a social face.

With additional reportage by UNI

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