NCP ready to fly solo, but biding its time

Weeks ago, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar created a stir in politicalcircles when he said that no one is untouchable in politics, speaking at an event hosted by former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari. OnWednesday, his party’s general secretary D P Tripathi hobnobbed with the who’s who from the Third Front in New Delhi, adding to speculations of a possible switchover for the NCP’s loyalties.

BJP chief Nitin Gadkari
NEW ALIGNMENTS: A function hosted by former BJP chief Nitin Gadkari was graced by NCP general secretary D P Tripathi yesterday, fuelling speculation that the NCP was distancing itself from the Congress Party<

The row raging between Congress and NCP over the allocation of Lok Sabha seats has reached a climax in recent times, and NCP’s state unit is said to be gearing up to go solo in the approaching general assembly elections. The Congress, on the other hand, has steeled itself as well, say party insiders.

Justifying the decision to share the stage with the likes of Janata Dal (U), Samajwadi Party, Left parties, AIADMK, and the Biju Janata Dal, NCP senior leader Praful Patel said that the party wanted to keep all its options open. “In the era of coalition politics, we have to keep the option of working with other parties open.” D P Tripathi, on the other hand said, he was attending the convention as he was in favour of secularism in politics.

State NCP leaders are unwilling to come on record about their plans, but say the party has already started preparing to fight elections on its own. “We will wait for the outcome of five state assembly elections, programmes of which will be over by December 9,” said a party leader, adding, “As the Congress is unwilling to go ahead with 26:22 seat sharing formula for 2004 general elections, we have no option but to be ready to contest on
our own.”

Indications of troubled ties between the Congress and the NCP first emerged when the state NCP unit chief Bhaskar Jadhav took a dig at the Congress, saying that the party was free to fight all the 48 Lok Sabha seats from Maharashtra if it was confident of winning them.

His Congress counterpart
Manikrao Thakre has for long bellyached against the 26:22 formula, pushing for 29 seats for his party and 19 for NCP.  The turning point came on Wednesday, when Jitendra Awhad, NCP state executive president, congratulated Bihar CM Nitish Kumar for comparing Gujarat CM Narendra Modi with Hitler. Awhad’s statement is significant – he is a close confidant of NCP chief Sharad Pawar and his open praise of Kumar indicates that the party may be slowly trying to ingratiate itself to the stalwarts of the Third Front.  NCP’s growing alienation has become a source of worry for Congress leaders. The state-in-charge Mohan Prakash, CM Prithviraj Chavan and MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre are unwilling stick to the old formula, revealed a Congress office-bearer.  

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