Cracks in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress alliance have split wide open.
The NCP forged a pact with rivals Shiv Sena-BJP to get an upper hand in power tussle in the state's zilla parishads.
Its ally, the Congress, sees the move as the beginning of greater conflict as the NCP chief Sharad Pawar appears to be working out a third front in the Centre. Moreover, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar is preparing to go alone in 2014 assembly elections to undermine the Congress in Maharashtra.
Maharashtra Pradesh Congress Committee chief Manikrao Thakre said it was a betrayal of coalition rules. "The NCP has betrayed the Congress. Till late Tuesday night, their leaders had engaged us in dialogue about formation of zilla parishads. Today, they changed their stand without taking us into confidence."
The NCP emerged as the leading electoral force in district politics bagging president posts in 13 zilla parishads and 13 vice-president posts. The Congress was had to content with only seven posts of president and five vice-president posts.
"It is unfortunate and disappointing. We will have to sit and take stock of the developments. At the same time, we will also ascertain our shortcomings," said chief minister Prithviraj Chavan.
The NCP won 526 seats and Congress 458 seats of the total 1,639 seats in 27 zilla parishads. The BJP bagged 198 seats and Sena 255.
The Congress and the NCP were hoping to have a pact in 18 zilla parishads. But the NCP dumped the Congress in Amaravati, Ahmednagar, Yavatmal, Nagpur, Chandrapur and Gadchiroli and chose BJP as its ally to defeat the Congress. The Congress continued to accommodate the NCP where it had an upper hand — Wardha, Aurangabad and Buldhana. The NCP and Sena joined hands in Ratnagiri.
Thakre rushed to Delhi to meet high command Sonia Gandhi and AICC leaders over the issue. Deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar seemed to be executing the script which had the support of Sharad Pawar, who is in Mumbai for the last two days closely monitoring the developments.
"The decisions on formation of alliances were taken based on ground realities. At several place, the Congress was not willing to accommodate the NCP for post of president despite having an upper hand," said Madhukar Picchad, state NCP president.
A day earlier, Sharad Pawar hinted that NCP would have to look for options as the Congress was being "unreasonable".