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Pawar's options worry Congress

Vijay Singh in Mumbai | January 04, 2004 04:58 IST
Last Updated: January 04, 2004 05:01 IST

Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar's statement that no party is untouchable for him, Bharatiya Janata Party included, has opened up the possibility of a radical political realignment.

The statement came at a time when the NCP was in talks with the Congress for an alliance, and the Shiv Sena muddied the waters saying it did not mind joining hands with the NCP provided disgraced former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal was dropped.

Pawar, for his part, refused to drop Bhujbal, but indicated he would not mind joining the National Democratic Alliance.

But joining the NDA may not be easy and can be fraught with the danger of embittering his Maratha votebank, party leaders and workers.

Most of the NCP leaders have been part of the Congress at one time or the other, having fought the BJP and the Shiv Sena as communal elements. If Pawar joins hands with the BJP it may antagonise these leaders.

"We are aware of such things and haven't taken any decision to enter into a tie-up with the NDA. We will discuss the issue in our party meeting on January 25 and take a decision," NCP spokesperson Praful Patel told rediff.com

"In fact we had discussed the possibility of a pre-poll alliance with Congress long back. But there has been no response from their side. And Sonia Gandhi had said the people will decide the prime minister. But her party leaders are saying that she will be the prime minister. Why is there a contradiction?" he asked.

But Maharashtra Congress chief Ranjit Deshmukh said, "We welcome the NCP if they are willing to join us. Our party president has already given the invitation to them. It is up to them to decide on this now."

Asked if the NCP will enter into an alliance with the Congress in the state and with the NDA in the Centre, Deshmukh said, "How can we accept it?  We will not be taken for granted."

NCP sources told rediff.com that Pawar is keeping his cards close to the chest. "He is waiting for a good offer from parties willing to make an alliance with the NCP. He will definitely select the offer where he can enjoy power in the Centre and in Maharashtra as well," said a source.

The sources also said that the BJP had established its base in Konkan, Marathwada and Vidharbha areas with the help of Shiv Sena.

"Now they need to extend themselves in western Maharashtra. For this NCP is best option for them as this area is considered their stronghold," said a source.

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