Already reeling under an electoral washout in the Lok Sabha, the Congress may have more trouble on hand, with growing voices in the NCP demanding that they go it alone in the assembly polls if they do not get adequate number of seats from their ally.
NCP leaders, especially from western Maharashtra, Marathwada and some parts of Vidarbha are demanding that the party ditch the Congress, which is already at a low ebb after getting just two of the 48 seats in Maharashtra, and strike it out on its own in the elections due in October. A senior NCP leader said deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and party's Maharashtra chief Sunil Tatkare were among those subscribing to the line, with party chief and former Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar too being said to be in an uncompromising mood.
That the Congress has not yet responded formally to the NCP's demand for 144 seats or half of the state assembly's bench strength of 288 has added wind to the sails of those advocating the "go it alone" line. In 2009, the NCP fought from 114 seats, leaving the rest to the Congress. While the Congress has 82 MLAs, the NCP has 62.
"A stream of thought regarding contesting on our own strength has been gaining steam in the party. The proponents point out that we can win around 50 to 60 seats on our own regardless of whether we ally with the Congress or not. They argue that we must go it alone and gauge our strength. This will also help us increase our base across Maharashtra," the NCP leader said.
In the 1999 assembly elections, the NCP, which had been formed after splitting the Congress, secured 58 seats as against 75 for the Congress. The two parties had joined hands after the elections to dislodge the Shiv Sena and BJP from forming the government, with Vilasrao Deshmukh (Congress) as the chief minister and NCP's Chhagan Bhujbal as his deputy. "However, a lot of water has flown down the bridge since then and our grass-root base has increased," said the NCP leader.
In 2004, the NCP contested 124 seats, but was forced to whittle it down by the Congress to just 114 in 2009 on the basis of "the changed political scenario", with the grand old party getting 17 of 48 Lok Sabha seats in Maharashtra and the NCP just eight. The Congress could get an increased mandate in the Lok Sabha in 2009 with 206 MPs being elected.
"Technically, we are twice as strong as the Congress," said the NCP leader, adding that while the party could get four MPs elected from Maharashtra, the Congress had just two.
NCP's interviews for prospective candidates, which will begin from Monday, will cover all 288 constituencies, indicating that the party is in a belligerent mood. The NCP leader, however, said that regardless of the hawkish postures adopted by Congress leaders from Maharashtra, the party high command was in favour of an alliance with the NCP.
"In case, our respect is not kept intact and if we do not get adequate seats, our options are open," said senior NCP leader and former Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel, adding that the Congress was yet to formally respond to their seat-sharing demands.