In a major thaw in its relations with the Nationalist Congress Party, the Congress has offered flexibility in terms of seat-sharing in Maharashtra for the coming general elections.
Of the total 48 Lok Sabha seats in the state, the two parties have agreed on 42 seats, said Manikrao Thakre, president of the Congress' state unit, adding that talks over the remaining six seats were still inconclusive.
"There are a couple of seats where our party is in a fix and we expect the NCP to understand our position," said Thakre. However, he did not name the constituencies.
Thakre also exuded confidence that seat-sharing would be finalised within three days. He added that the Congress would release its first list of candidates by March 15 or 16.
During the Lok Sabha elections in 2004, the Congress had contested 27 constituencies, while the NCP had fielded its candidate in 21 seats.
So far, all senior Congress leaders have ruled out a review of the 27-21 seat-sharing formula. Senior Congress leader and former chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh was quite vocal about the 'rigid' stance adopted by the state Congress on seat-sharing. Thakre also echoed NCP chief Sharad Pawar's stand that "winnability" should be a bigger criterion for distribution of seats rather than numbers.
Congress sources said the party was now ready to settle for 26 seats, leaving the rest 22 for the NCP. Thakre, however, did not reveal any number.
The state Congress president said since the NCP had shown signs that it was ready for less than 24 seats, the Congress was also open to renegotiate.
Asked about the NCP's campaign for Sharad Pawar as its prime ministerial candidate, Thakre said the Congress had already declared Manmohan Singh for the top job. "Every party is free to choose its leader. The Congress will support Manmohan Singh to become the prime minister and get the support of as many allies as possible," he said.
Meanwhile, leaders of another important alliance -- the BJP and Shiv Sena -- continued their talks on Thursday but refrained from formally announcing the alliance. A BJP functionary said the saffron parties had "almost" concluded their talks but were waiting for the Congress-NCP combine to formally announce their seats first.
"Unless they declare which party gets to contest a particular constituency, we are not going to reveal our cards," said a BJP functionary.