The Congress is eyeing at least two more ministers than its ally Nationalist Congress Party in the newly elected government in Maharashtra to break the logjam over formation of the government, which is likely to be sworn in by Saturtday. According to top Congress leaders, the party may get 22 ministers and the chief minister's post, while the NCP will have 20 ministers, including the deputy CM's chair.
"Our negotiations with NCP for government formation is over. We have settled everything," Defence Minister A K Antony, who is in charge of the party's affairs in Maharashtra, said after a meeting with Congress President Sonia Gandhi in Delhi.
The meeting with Gandhi took place a day after the NCP gave its proposals for government formation and Chief Minister Ashok Chavan indicated the next government would be in place within two days.
In the 2004 Cabinet, the NCP enjoyed more ministerial chairs than the Congress. Congress managers, however, are still trying to wrest some of the key portfolios but the NCP leadership is unlikely to succumb to the Congress pressure.
According to sources, the Congress initially wanted home or the finance portfolio. When the NCP made it clear that it would not give up these two portfolios, the Congress managers started negotiating on rural development and tribal affairs portfolios.
An adamant NCP has so far refused to give additional portfolios to its coalition partner in Maharashtra. "When we asked for the rural development post, the party said it wanted to exchange it with the urban development portfolio. When we sought tribal affairs, the NCP managers said 'why should the Congress alone do welfare for tribals? You take tribal affairs but give us social justice'. The talks haven't yielded results so far," said a senior UPA minister.
The NCP has also refused to give the Speaker's post in the Assembly to the Congress.
"There is a set formula in place between the two parties.The NCP is not bringing any new issue or dimension on the table," Praful Patel, Union civil aviation minister and NCP' chief negotiator over the government formation issue, told reporters.
Before the Union Cabinet met today, many Congress ministers met Vilasrao Deshmukh--former Maharashtra CM and currently Union heavy industry minister-- and asked him about the government formation in Maharashtra. Deshmukh assured that the new government would be formed by Friday. But he, too, didn't sound very optimist about getting more portfolios from the NCP.