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|October 14, 1999||
No end in sight to Maharashtra tangle
Syed Firdaus Ashraf in Bombay
The political crisis in Maharashtra deepened today with the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party sending out contradictory signals about the progress in their talks and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray, in a fit of anger, inviting his alliance partner, the Bharatiya Janata Party, to form the government on its own.
In a clear indication that time is running out, Governor P C Alexander has now invited senior Sena-BJP and Congress leaders for talks.
In a strongly worded statement late last night, Thackeray had called off his party's efforts to form the next government in the state and said the BJP was free to ally with any other party and form the government which he [Thackeray] would support from outside.
This morning, the two Union ministers of the Sena -- Manohar Joshi and Suresh Prabhu -- did not take charge of their departments, indicating that the crisis could well spill over to New Delhi.
While BJP spokesman M Venkaiah Naidu said the two ministers were probably awaiting an auspicious day to take charge, it was very clear that the party's attempts to push Deputy Chief Minister Gopinath Munde's candidature for the CM's post in Maharashtra had not gone done well with Thackeray.
Frantic attempts by reporters to contact the Sena chief proved futile as they all got the same reply from 'Matoshree', his residence in Bombay: "Saheb is out of station and will be back only after 8pm."
Munde, who was in Delhi to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government, rushed back to Bombay late last night and met senior party colleagues at his official residence, 'Ramtek'.
Munde too refused to speak to the media, though he was quoted by party spokesman Prakash Jawdekar as saying that the alliance was intact and the BJP had no problems with the Sena's Narayan Rane retaining the chief minister's post.
"If the Sena wants to sit in the Opposition, we are prepared. But we will be together," Munde had told a private television channel early this morning.
The situation was no less confusing at the other end of the political spectrum. While state Congress president Pratap Bhosale told reporters that the negotiations with the NCP were in their final stages and "90 per cent of the problems have been sorted out", NCP president Sharad Pawar denied this and said there was much to be discussed yet.
Sources said the two parties are now deadlocked over the distribution of portfolios. The NCP, having given up its claim on the chief minister's post, is now demanding plum ministries like home and finance.
The NCP also wants to have a say in the choice of chief minister. "The Congress must realise that the new chief minister will be our leader too. So they have to consult us before appointing anybody. They must give us two or three names and we can give them our preferences," said Bhujbal.
Asked about the meetings tomorrow with the governor where senior leaders from the Congress, the BJP and the Sena have been invited separately, Bhujbal said he was unaware of the development.
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