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|October 11, 1999||
Congress, NCP continue to fight over CM's post in Maharashtra
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay
The third round of discussions between the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party in Maharashtra ended in a stalemate today, with both parties refusing to give up their claim to the chief minister's post.
Emerging from the meeting, state NCP chief Chhagan Bhujbal said the two parties would meet again on Wednesday.
The meeting discussed a list of key portfolios also. Bhujbal said the state leadership of the Congress has said that it would refer the list to the Congress high command.
Earlier in the day, former defence minister and Nationalist Congress Party president Sharad Pawar denied any move on his party's part to join hands with the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine in Maharashtra.
Two senior leaders of the party, general secretary P A Sangma and former chief minister Sudhakar Naik, had recently gone on record to say that they were against any understanding with the Congress and a tie-up with the Sena-BJP combine was more desirable.
Asked about these dissenting voices in his party, Pawar said they were the personal opinions of those leaders. He said his party had not even initiated a dialogue with the Sena-BJP and is only negotiating with the Congress.
During the day, Pawar held extensive deliberations with his colleagues to discuss the issue of the formation of the next government.
Meanwhile, Chief Minister Narayan Rane who was to call on Governor P C Alexander at 1100 hours today, called off his proposed meeting following protests from the state BJP unit.
The BJP leaders were angry that Rane did not consult them before fixing an appointment with the governor.
According to a top BJP functionary, "We should be first sure that we have the necessary numbers for a simple majority. How can we stake our claim in haste?"
Later in the night, however, Union Home Minister Lal Kishenchand Advani told Sena politicians Raj and Uddhav Thackeray at a meeting in New Delhi that the BJP would give Bal Thackeray a free hand in his attempts to form an alliance government.
The Sena has 69 members in the state assembly, while the BJP has 56. The alliance has the support of five independents, but is still 15 short of the magic figure of 145 in the 288-member assembly.
Top Sena leaders including the chief minister called on his deputy and BJP leader Gopinath Munde at his residence to pacify him. Munde, who was hailed by supporters as the next chief minister, has to contend with being deputy CM once again if the Sena-BJP government retains power.
According to an agreement between the two saffron parties, the party with the larger share of seats will keep the chief minister's post.
In another development, some Sena sources claimed that the Vidarbha lobby in the Congress was likely to split under the leadership of former Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee president Ranjit Deshmukh.
Deshmukh denied any such move. But he admitted that the newly elected members of the state assembly from Vidarbha had been holding meetings through the day and that they were keen to see one of them become leader of the Congress Legislature Party, since the Vidarbha contingent in the CLP is the biggest.
The CLP has elected Marathwada politician Vilas Deshmukh as its leader.
Ranjit Deshmukh also said that if the proposed coalition with the NCP did not come about, the Congress would prefer to sit in the opposition. This is the first such statement by any Congress politician.
Additional reportage: UNI
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