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Allies, competitors

Allies, competitors

Author: Editorial
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: March 20, 2009
URL: http://www.indianexpress.com/news/allies-competitors/436688/

Introduction: A short history of the Congress-NCP alliance

Of all its allies, the Congress has a most overt relationship of mutual suspicion with the NCP. Perhaps the personal history of their leaders accounts for this appearance, if not the reality. The NCP was born of Sharad Pawar's rebellion directly against the Congress's president, and it was carried out at a particularly critical time for the Congress - in 1999, just after the general elections had been announced, and the party had perceived a chance at victory. In the years since, the two parties first came to an arrangement to share power in the Maharashtra assembly, a relationship that has endured for a second consecutive term. In 2004, they cemented a seat-sharing pact for the Lok Sabha elections. But once again, in the run-up to general elections, the air has been thick with speculation of Pawar's plans to outwit his senior alliance partner and scout around for other options.

In this season of alliances coming apart, the NCP-Congress compact is illuminating. Indications are that after heated rhetoric by the NCP about wanting the Congress to accommodate its growing ambitions to contest from more seats and about keeping open the option of pitching Pawar as a possible prime minister, the two parties could eventually settle for the same seat-sharing deal of 2004. Then the Congress and NCP had split the 48 seats in Maharashtra 26:22. Pre-election negotiations are battles of wit, and nothing is truly over till its over. Nonetheless, the comparison with the Congress's other prominent negotiations, with the RJD-LJP in Bihar, is telling.

Over Bihar, Congress leaders have announced a sense of betrayal. The RJD's Lalu Prasad's and LJP's Ramvilas Paswan's transactions with the Congress have been the UPA's smoothest. The sudden public announcement by the two Bihar leaders of their decision to keep most of Bihar between them, therefore, created a stir. If the Congress-NCP seat-sharing deal is in the end a rather tame affair, there would be a message. Perhaps durable alliances are not contingent on personal rapport as much as a conviction that each partner's chances are diminished without the other.

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