Even after several rounds of discussions between the Congress and its alliance partner Nationalist Congress Party, tussle over the crucial home ministry portfolio in Maharashtra continues to remain the stumbling block in forming their third coalition government in the state.
Already, seven days have passed since the Assembly poll results were declared, but the two partners are still not ready to budge under each other's pressure.
The Congress, with 22 MLAs more than the NCP, is adamant that it should get at least the home ministry portfolio. The NCP is equally firm to stick to the portfolio-sharing formula in 1999 when it had Home, Finance and Public Works Department portfolios. Sharad Pawar's party has so far agreed to give up the Assembly speaker's post for the Congress, according to a top Congress manager.
Hinting that the NCP would not give much ground to the Congress, Union Civil Aviation Minister and NCP's key negotiator on the portfolio distribution issue, Praful Patel, said on Friday: "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."
But Congress managers hope the deadlock will end soon as Sharad Pawar, for the first time since the results were declared, held meeting with Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Ahmed Patel. Patel and Pawar held talks for almost 45 minutes but refused to elaborate about it to the media. Defence Minister and the Congress' Maharashtra in-charge A K Antony also accompanied Patel at the meeting.
The top Congress leadership also refer to other coalition governments, including that of Jammu and Kashmir, to drive home their point. "We have told them that the leader of the coalition must have these key portfolios like Home or Finance. In J&K, these portfolios lie with Omar Abdullah's National Conference, while in the Centre these ministries are with the Congress," said a senior Congress leader.
Chief Minister-elect Ashok Chavan also met senior party leaders in the national capital, including Home Minister P Chidambaram. Patel also said some informal discussions had taken place between the two sides but the NCP was "yet to receive" any firm proposal.
After his meetings with the Congress leadership, Chavan said: "There are no obstacles. We will finalise the Cabinet formation within two days."