After Trinamool, NCP adds to Congress’s coalition travails

New Delhi, Jan 9 (IANS) Alliance woes multiplied for the Congress — already facing salvoes from a belligerent Trinamool Congress — with coalition partner in Maharashtra, the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) Monday demanding that the party take an early decision on finalising seat-sharing for the Mumbai civic polls.

Though the NCP said it had not issued an ultimatum to the Congress, it emphasised the need for a quick decision on alliance between two parties for the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) elections. The Congress said it was talking to NCP to arrive at an understanding, but did not categorically say if an accord will be reached for the Feb 16 polls.

The Congress also sought to play down remarks of Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee who had last week thrown an open challenge to the party to walk out of the alliance government in West Bengal.

NCP leader Tariq Anwar said here Monday that party chief Sharad Pawar had not set a deadline to the Congress, but also made it clear that the party was prepared to go it alone in BMC polls.

‘It is not a deadline. The sooner an alliance is formed the better it is. It should be formed in time for the polls,’ Anwar told IANS. He said that in the last BMC elections in 2007, seat sharing talks between the two parties had dragged on till the end and then fizzled out.

‘It was a setback for us,’ Anwar said.

Pawar, who is union agriculture minister, had Sunday asked the Congress to finalise its plans for an alliance and seat-sharing for the Mumbai civic polls by Monday.

Pawar’s ultimatum came even as Congress has faced barbs from an increasingly assertive Trinamool Congress.

Following Pawar’s ultimatum, given Sunday, Maharashtra Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan came to Delhi to discuss seat sharing with senior Congress party leaders.

Congress sources said Chavan had discussions with Defence Minister A.K. Antony and Ahmed Patel, political secretary to Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

NCP spokesperson D.P. Tripathi said the party was ‘pressing’ for an alliance with Congress in order to ‘defeat the Shiv Sena-BJP combine’.

Expressing hope that ‘everything will be fine’, Congress MP from Nagpur Vilas Muttemwar said ‘the issue would be resolved soon’.

Congress spokesperson Rashid Alvi said that talks with NCP were continuing.

‘Whatever the decision, you will be informed,’ Alvi said.

Alvi did not respond to remarks of Banerjee, saying Trinamool was ‘part of UPA governemnt’.

‘Very soon we will be able to sort out all the differences whether with Trinamool or any other ally,’ Alvi said.

Congress sources said that the party was willing to give around 50 seats to NCP against its demand for 65 seats out of 232 (five members are nominated) in the BMC polls.

In the 2007 polls, the Congress won 83 seats against just 19 for the NCP.

The Shiv Sena won 85 seats and the BJP got 29.

The announcement of civic polls for Feb 16 virtually heralds the battle for the country’s biggest and richest civic corporation with an annual budget of over Rs.21,000 crore.

Political observers termed Pawar’s statement as mere ‘political posturing to get a good deal ahead of the municipal corporation polls’ and said ‘the Congress must assert itself’.

‘The Congress should assert itself. Pawar’s threat is good for the Congress as it would galvanise the grand old party into taking action on the alliance,’ political analyst N. Bhaskara Rao told IANS, adding: ‘A seat sharing arrangement will help both the parties fight the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine, which controls BMC at present.’

‘Pawar is better than Mamata, who is very unpredictable,’ said Rao.

Ashok Wankhede, an expert in Maharashtra politics, too said that ‘an assertive Congress would be in a better position to strike a good deal with the NCP’.

‘The Congress needs to get assertive to gain the game as it stands to benefit from an alliance,’ Wankhede told IANS.

Political experts said the NCP is bullish on the municipal corporation polls after its success in the recent municipal council elections across the state.

As many as 10 municipal corporations are going to polls Feb 16.

While NCP is seeking a hard bargain from the Congress for civic polls, Trinamool Congress has differed from the party on several issues over the past month including foreign equity in multi-brand retail and Lokpal bill.