The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party seem to be pursuing an independent course in their pre-poll preparations for all 288 seats, but both claim that an alliance is in the offing for the Maharashtra Assembly elections on October 13.

The NCP has not issued any ultimatum to the Congress on deciding a pre- poll alliance, according to Manikrao Thakre, president, Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee (MPCC). Mr Thakre told journalists that the issue of allying with the NCP should be decided soon.

He said secular parties should join hands and the party high command would take a suitable decision. The Congress office at the Tilak Bhavan was besieged by those staking their claim for ticket. The Miraj seat, which is reserved, has 54 applicants. About 3,140 applications were received by the Congress in the last three days during its Parliamentary Board meeting, nearly as much as the NCP has received. The NCP has finished interviewing 3,066 applicants for the 288 seats. A shortlist has been prepared and the Parliamentary Board will begin its meeting from Friday to finalise the candidates.

Mr. Thakre has been saying that the Congress should get more seats than its share of 164 in 2004, looking at the ground realities after the delimitation of constituencies. Keeping this mind, the Congress should get 173 seats while the NCP, which contested 124 seats in 2004, should be entitled to 115 seats.The NCP won 71 seats in 2004, while the Congress got 69. However, after Shiv Sena’s Narayan Rane joined the party with his supporters, the Congress tally has increased to 75. Three more supporters of Mr. Rane have joined the Congress from the Shiv Sena recently and that will also cause some problems as these three seats belong to the NCP’s share. Meanwhile, the NCP too wants the alliance to prevent the split in secular votes. However, the party is prepared to face the circumstances that might arise in the absence of an alliance, Maharashtra NCP president R.R. Patil told journalists.

Speaking in favour of an alliance, he said, “We feel the secular vote should not get divided and sectarian parties should not come to power. We never spoke the language of going it alone. Our aim is to form a stable government. The Congress had expelled Mr. [Sharad] Pawar, yet in 2004 [State Assembly] we accepted a Congress Chief Minister. We kept egos and power politics aside.”

Mr. Patil too dismissed reports of a 48-hour ultimatum to the Congress to decide on the alliance. He said no such news had been conveyed by the high command.

To questions on what kind of message was being sent to people given the uncertainty of the alliance even after five years of being in power in the State, Mr. Patil said: “The people were stable.” This led to a pointed comment from a section of the media: “The people are stable; the alliance isn’t.” He rubbished the seat-sharing figures appearing in the press. Mr. Patil announced the entry of 12 leaders from other parties into the NCP. Nine members of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena had joined the party. Among the three BJP MLAs who joined the NCP were Suresh Dhas and Prakash Solanki. The former Congress MLA, Nandakumar Kale, also switched his loyalty to the NCP.