Sonia launches poll campaign


Congress workers garland party president Sonia Gandhi during the inauguration of the newly renovated Mumbai Congress office in Mumbai on Monday. PTIDeadlock over seat sharing continues in Maharashtra

Sonia was here to inaugurate the renovated headquarters of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee (MRCC), named after her late husband, former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, opposite the famous Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST). She addressed a workers' rally at the adjacent Azad Maidan, where she called upon the activists to reach out to the people with renewed vigour. During her entire speech, she skirted the issue of possible understanding with the NCP. There was absolutely no hint whether the party was indeed going for the tie-up or going all alone for the polls.

The deadlock in the negotiations between the two parties  reached after the Congress insisted on 179 seats out of the total 288 assembly segments in the state, leaving the NCP only 109. The NCP leaders are naturally livid at this, and are preparing to go alone. The NCP offered the Congress 164 seats, the exact number which the Congress had contested in 2004 assembly polls, and the dispute now remains around 10 seats.

It is learnt that Pawar has kept a list of probable candidates for all the 288 seats in the state, if the Congress ditches the NCP at the last minute. However, he has made it clear that the NCP was interested in keeping the alliance intact to ensure that 'secular' votes do not get divided.

In October 2004 assembly elections, despite contesting only 119 seats, the NCP had emerged as the largest party in the assembly, with 71 seats, followed by the Congress' 69. However, after the defection of the rebel Shiv Sena leader Narayan Rane to the Congress and subsequent bypolls at nine assembly segments, the Congress became the largest party in the house, relegating the NCP to the second position.

The April-May 2009 LS polls has completely altered the picture, or so the Congress leaders believe. The party, which could win only 11 seats in 2004 LS polls, bagged 18 seats this time, thanks to the presence of Raj Thackeray's MNS candidates in five Mumbai constituencies and elsewhere.  The Congress too has kept its list of probable candidates for all the 288 seats ready. Besides the number of seats to be contested by each party, another point of dispute is that the Congress also wants to take back some of the major departments allocated to NCP during the talks held in 1999.

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