The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will begin formal discussions on a power-sharing arrangement for Maharashtra from Wednesday. Indications to this effect were given by Chief Minister-designate Ashok Chavan on Tuesday after meeting Congress president Sonia Gandhi.

Meanwhile, a day after the NCP made it clear that it would not concede key portfolios of Home and Finance to the Congress, neither party blinked all of Tuesday.

In the Congress camp, there were hectic parleys through the day with Mr. Chavan, Pradesh Congress Committee president Manikrao Thackeray and Mumbai Regional Congress Committee president Kripashankar Singh arriving in the capital early in the day for discussions with the leadership on a formula for power-sharing with the NCP.

They held several rounds of talks with Defence Minister and party in-charge of Maharashtra A.K. Antony and later followed it up with a discussion with Ms. Gandhi. Though Congress leaders insisted that no formula has been drawn up as yet, broadly the party’s refrain is that the NCP should be realistic.

“The NCP should learn a lesson from the Lok Sabha and Assembly elections and accept the ground realities,” said a senior Congress leader, justifying the party’s insistence on the two parties getting Ministerial berths in proportion to their strength in the Assembly.

Refusing to accept the suggestions emanating from the Congress camp — while conceding that no concrete proposal had been presented to it as yet —NCP leaders contend that its strike rate was better than the Congress in the Assembly elections. “The Congress first wrested more seats from us, but still we performed better with a strike rate of 54 per cent as against 47 per cent by the Congress.”

“The NCP gains and Congress bargains,” is how NCP spokesman and general secretary D.P. Tripathi summed up the present impasse. However, he was confident that the parties will sort out differences. At the same time, he was categorical in maintaining that the NCP would not concede the two key portfolios of Home and Finance.

In fact, the NCP wants to return to the 1999 arrangement when the parties evenly split the portfolios. In 2004, the NCP got the Congress to concede a couple of Ministerial perches in lieu of Chief Ministership. Though the NCP is pushing for a 50-50 arrangement, Congress leaders from Maharashtra insist that this is only a ploy to hold on to the key Ministries.