But it puts the onus of putting together a combined fight on the NCP

Congress leaders on Friday professed commitment to the ongoing alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) in Maharashtra but placed the onus of putting together a combined fight against “Enemy No. 1” — the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena — on its decade-old ally.

“We are open to an alliance against the BJP-Shiv Sena but it is for other like-minded parties to decide who their main rival is,” said senior Congress leaders after a marathon meeting on Thursday to prepare the party’s strategy for the upcoming Assembly elections in Maharashtra.

In particular, the Congress wants the NCP to address the trust deficit between the two parties. As to whether this can be addressed by one party alone, the Congress contention is that it is the NCP which has always tried to sabotage the alliance by backing candidates against the Congress on the sly. “If there is an alliance, all partners should work towards a common goal and adopt a common approach instead of working at cross-purposes as has often been the case with the NCP.”

That the Congress — riding on its performance in Maharashtra in the recent Lok Sabha elections — will drive a hard bargain to corner more seats is a given. And, from all indications, the Congress will use the delimitation as a premise for reworking the 2004 seat-sharing arrangement. “Delimitation has transformed the ‘geography and chemistry’ of the Maharashtra poll-scape,” the Congress said. However, the NCP is harping on the 2004 formula whereby it contested 124 segments and the Congress 157.

Should the Congress leadership decide to continue with the alliance, the first round of negotiations with the NCP will be based on the report submitted by the central observers pointing out the delimitation-related changes in Maharashtra polity. The Congress is well aware that the NCP — particularly its leader Sharad Pawar — will not yield easily but it is banking on having its way since the latter is more keen on the alliance as it draws its identity from Maharashtra.

“What is the NCP without Maharashtra? The NCP calls itself the Rashtrawadi Congress Party in Hindi but it is actually the Marathawada Congress Party,” said aCongressman while admitting that the stakes were equally high for the Congress too. “The daily pin-pricks on each other apart, both parties know that Maharashtra is too important a State to gamble away.”

Further, there is acknowledgement within the Congress that the Maharashtra Navanirman Sena factor — which acted as a spoiler for the BJP-Shiv Sena in the Lok Sabha elections — would apply again only if the ruling combine is perceived to be on a comeback trail.