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Why did Sharad Pawar blink first?

By Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi
Last updated on: October 28, 2004 02:36 IST
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For the second time within a month, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar has been outwitted.

The battle of nerves between the Congress and NCP for the post of Maharashtra's chief minister ended in the former's favour.

Why did Pawar blink first?

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One possible reason is the time factor.

Nearly 15 days have passed since the results of the assembly election were announced and the state is making do with a caretaker chief minister. Not a good sign in one of the country's most industrialised states, which is also home to its financial capital.

Another reason is the internal struggle in the NCP.

The gist of the negotiations between the Congress and NCP:

nPawar toyed with the idea of becoming chief minister and possibly ask his only child Supriya to fight the by-election to the Baramati Lok Sabha seat.

nBut the Congress was wary of allowing Pawar to become chief minister fearful of its future in the politically crucial state. It proposed that if Pawar was keen to become CM, he should merge the NCP with the Congress.

nPawar refused to merge his party, which emerged with more seats than the Congress in the assembly election. The latter in turn refused to give into Pawar's demand.

nThen the NCP tried to secure a better deal at the Centre. It took the Congress almost two days to de-link the Maharashtra talks with the power sharing agreement at the Centre.

nThen came the twin proposals: Pawar sought two posts of deputy chief minister and two more portfolios, including revenue and urban development. The revenue portfolio offers a grip on the administration and the bureaucracy while the urban development department is where the money is. Most donors to political parties are beneficiaries of the urban development department's policies.

nThe Congress won this round too, and that is the real win.

nIn the end, Pawar got two cabinet berths (labour and forest) and one more post of minister of state from the Congress quota.

nThe Congress made it clear that any further delay in choosing a chief minister would affect the feel-good image created by the alliance winning the election.

nSecondly, even if the Congress conceded Pawar's demand, the latter would have found it difficult to select any of his colleagues for the post of chief minister without sparking discontent among the others.

This is the second time Pawar has been outwitted; the first being when he lost the election to the post of president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India.

But all is not over for the Congress as yet.

It has one more issue to deal with -- its chief ministerial candidate.

"The issue of who will be the chief minister is not closed within the Congress," said an influential member of the Congress Working Committee.

A name will emerge on Friday, October 29, when party legislators meet to choose their leader.

According to reliable sources in the Congress, the high command would prefer a Maratha in view of the NCP's good showing in the assembly election. The NCP is dominated by Marathas.

Outgoing Chief Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, a Dalit, will have to launch an aggressive campaign to retain his post against the Maratha lobby. His nearest rival is his predecessor Vilasrao Deshmukh.

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Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi