Caught between two Gandhis, NCP ponders over going solo

It may not come as a surprise if the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) decides to go solo for the upcoming 2014 Lok Sabha elections, instead of sharing the pie with the Congress. Sources in the party claimed that top echelons were seriously discussing the prospect of going solo.

This they said was the outcome of difference of opinions between the two Gandhis in the Congress -- Sonia and Rahul -- which left the NCP bigwigs no choice but to assess the party’s position with its current alliance partner.

Friends no more? Sharad Pawar and Rahul Gandhi. File pics

Sources also said NCP chief Sharad Pawar indirectly told his lieutenants to gear up for the elections, during a closed door meeting that was attended by a few of his most trusted men. Pawar said though his meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi ended on a positive note, the party was unhappy with the Congress plan of allocating it about 19 Lok Sabha seats against 22, which the NCP was offered in 2009.

While Sonia Gandhi is ready to continue with the alliance, it appears that Rahul is of a different viewpoint. Sources said the young Gandhi is unwilling to offer the NCP more then 18 seats. If this happens, then the NCP would be left with no choice but to fight the elections on its own was the tone of NCP chief during the interaction, a senior party leader said. 

The leader added that Rahul’s stance was a mirror image of the one taken by Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Manikrao Thakare. Thakare had been vocal about Congress rethinking the seat-sharing pattern it followed during the 2009 polls.

Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who according to the NCP leadership is using every opportunity to corner the party, supports this view. They seem to have the backing of the All India Congress Committee (AICC) state in-charge Mohan Prakash. And the trio -- Prakash, Thakre and CM -- seems to have convinced the AICC vice-president, Rahul Gandhi, on ignoring the NCP’s demand for 22 seats.

The Congress is keen on wresting Kolhapur, Hingoli, Jalana and Jalgaon from the NCP without swapping any of its constituencies from its present quota. If the NCP gives away the four seats then it would have minimum representation in the Lok Sabha and later in the State Assembly, feels the party. The entire issue is causing heartburn to the NCP and Pawar senior is unhappy with the developments. It has been learnt that discussions have already commenced over the party’s future and the process to select probables for the Lok Sabha.

Party sources said the way Rahul snubbed Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and the entire cabinet over the ordinance to protect tainted MPs, Pawar felt time had come to take stock of the NCP’s alliance with the Congress.  

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