Even as there was no official word from either side on Sunday on the fate of their existing alliance in Maharashtra, the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) were said to be working informal channels of communication to explore the possibility of a workable seat-sharing arrangement for the coming Assembly elections in the State.

Soon after reaching the Capital from Maharashtra late in the evening, NCP president Sharad Pawar was clear that he would not like to see the alliance break for a few seats, but he could not throw light on whether the two parties would fight the Assembly polls together. And, like the Congress, the NCP too is preparing itself for a fight to the finish in case the alliance does not come through.

Asked whether the two parties had begun seat-sharing talks, Congress spokesman and member of the coordination committee for Maharashtra Mohan Prakash said: “There is no communication gap.” Though there is talk of a formal round of discussion between the two parties in the next couple of days, senior Congress leaders said there was no let-up in the ‘go-it-alone’ demand from the State unit — fanned by the central leadership’s delay in making up its mind on a pre-poll alliance with its decade-old partner.

The Congress wants to contest between 175 and 185 seats, while the NCP is understood to have pared down its demand to 118 from the 124 it contested in the 2004 Assembly elections. If the two parties decide to team up, there will be hard bargaining on not just the number of seats each party will contest, but also which seats to contest.

Smaller parties

Also, the Congress has ruled out accommodating smaller parties such as the Jan Surajya Shakti — an NCP ally — and independents inimical to it. “If the NCP wants to accommodate them, it should give them ticket from its own kitty. The Congress is not prepared to leave extra seats for the NCP to accommodate such entities which have been openly critical of us and have contested against us in the Lok Sabha elections,” said a senior Congress leader.

“The issue is not of numbers, but the ground realities,” said Mr. Prakash. The electoral dynamics in Maharashrta had changed a lot after delimitation. “Mr. Pawar is the best judge of the ground situation.”

Meanwhile, Defence Minister and Congress in-charge of Maharashtra A.K. Antony met party president Sonia Gandhi on Sunday evening ahead of her visit to the State on Monday.

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