The two parties have formed a 10-member committee to discuss the points before they agree to support the Sena-led government.
New Delhi: Though it has “in principle” agreed to support the Shiv Sena’s bid to form the government in Maharashtra, the Congress wants a written assurance from the erstwhile BJP ally that it will distance itself from its hardline Hindutva agenda. Sources said that the Congress is keen that such a provision be part of the common minimum programme (CMP), which is being worked out for a possible Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP government in the state.
The Congress and the NCP, which on Wednesday began deliberating on the modalities of government formation in Maharashtra, expressed confidence that they will soon form a government along with Shiv Sena.
The two parties have formed a 10-member committee to discuss the points before they agree to support the Sena-led government. The committee includes five leaders each from the Congress and the NCP. “After we come to an understanding on the common minimum programme for the government, we will hold talks with the Shiv Sena,” said state Congress leader Balasaheb Thorat.
Shiv Sena too continued its deliberations on government formation even though President’s rule has been imposed in the state. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray held a meeting with Congress leaders Ashok Chavan, Balasaheb Thorat and Manikrao Thakare at a five-star hotel. Mr Thorat said it was just a courtesy meeting and the decision on post-poll alliance with Sena will be taken only after discussions with the NCP.
Mr Thacheray, however, expressed confidence that Sena will form the government. “Everything is going fine. Talks are on in the right direction and a decision will be announced at an appropriate time,” he said.
However, the thorny issue of Hindutva remains to be sorted. It first came up on Monday, at a hurriedly called meeting of the Congress Working Committee on whether or not to support the Sena. At the CWC meeting some senior leaders, led by A.K. Antony, said that it would be suicidal to go into an alliance with the Shiv Sena as the Congress would lose its secular vote bank in other states, especially in the south.
Following this it was conveyed to the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which was negotiating with the Shiv Sena on behalf of the Congress-NCP alliance, that such a clause needs to be included in any agreement with the Shiv Sena given its hardline Hindutva stance on many issues, including the strident demand for the construction of a Ram Temple at Ayodhya.
Sources told this newspaper that the Congress wants this and some sops for minorities to be included in the Common Minimum Programme for governance that the three parties are trying to thrash out.
Officially the Congress maintained that it is too early to talk about these issues and that these would be addressed by the committee set up by Congress president Sonia Gandhi to negotiate with the NCP and Sena.
“It is too early to comment on this. The committee formed by Mrs Gandhi will decide,” Maharashtra Congress leader and CWC member Avinash Pande said.
The NCP leaders in the 10-member committee thrashing out the common minimum programme include Ajit Pawar, Jayant Patil, Dhananjay Munde, Chhagan Bhujbal and Nawab Malik. The Congress is represented by Mr Thorat, former chief ministers Prithviraj Chavan and Ashok Chavan, Manikrao Thakare and Vijay Vadettiwar. Leaders of both the parties refused to discuss anything about their meeting.
However, a section of Congress leaders in Delhi point out the hypocrisy in the Congress’ demand that Shiv Sena distance itself from Hindutva issues when after the Ayodhya verdict the Congress had said that it favoured the construction of a Ram Temple, one of the biggest Hindutva agendas of the NDA.
Many Congress leaders also pointed out the irony inherent in Mr Antony’s vociferous opposition to joining hands with the Shiv Sena and worrying about the party’s secular credentials when he himself had, in a report after the 2014 Lok Sabha polls’ loss, suggested that the party should turn soft on Hindutva to revive its fortunes.