The government formation exercise for Maharashtra gathered momentum on Thursday with the top Congress leaders meeting their alliance partners, the Nationalist Congress Party, in New Delhi to settle on a power sharing agreement in the state.
Congress leaders A K Antony and Ahmed Patel drove to NCP chief Sharad Pawar's residence in the capital to discuss ministry formation, and both parties expressed confidence of settling the issue within a couple of days.
Incumbent Maharashtra Chief Minister Ashok Chavan, who has been chosen by the Congress for a second term, met senior party leaders in the capital, including Home Minister P Chidambaram.
Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel, who has been authorised by the NCP to hold talks with the Congress, hoped to settle all issues within one or two days.
"Broadly, each party's participation in the government has already been established, as we have been in power for the past 10 years. Hence, there will not be much of a difference in that pattern," Patel said, when asked about the Congress pitching for key portfolios in the ministry.
He said informal discussions have been held with the Congress but the NCP was yet to receive any firm proposal.
Since 1999, the Congress has held the chief minister's post, while the deputy chief minister has been from the NCP. As per the power sharing arrangement, the NCP has been holding key portfolios like home, finance, power and public works department.
"Formula is already there, we won't deviate from it much," Patel said.
The Congress has been eyeing some infrastructure portfolios, which are with the NCP with the hope that it could benefit the party in reaching out to the masses through development works.
"There are no obstacles. We will finalise the cabinet formation within two days," Chavan said.
Alliance sources said the NCP could declare all its ministers in one go, while the Congress is expected to keep a couple of seats vacant and fill it at a later date.
A day ago, NCP leader Ajit Pawar created a flutter by claiming that the Shiv Sena-BJP had offered him the post of chief minister if he broke ties with the Congress.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar was quick to dismiss the offer as "mindless" and a "political game" and vowed allegiance to its alliance with the Congress.
"This is all mindless that you are asking... this is a political game... the thing is that we will go as per the existing understanding between Congress and NCP," Pawar said. Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmad said the Sena-BJP's job was to divide people and "now they are also attempting to divide our alliance".
Expressing hope that all hitches would be removed, he said, "Both parties have experienced leaders in Maharashtra. It is better that all modalities are worked out jointly before government formation than having problems later."
The Congress has won 82 seats, while the NCP emerged victorious at 62 places in the assembly elections this month. The Congress had won 69 seats in the previous state elections while the NCP had won 71 in the 288-member House.
The state can have 42 ministers. In the outgoing government, the NCP had 24 portfolios as against 18 held by the Congress in addition to the post of the chief minister. The NCP, despite emerging as the single largest party, had then given the post of the chief minister to the Congress and got three additional ministerial berths in return.
Asked about the NCP's insistence on the 1999 formula, a senior Congress leader cited the norms for power sharing which were based on the number of legislators elected.