At the same time, the party, heading the ruling coalition in the state, said the top leaders of Congress and NCP will take a final call on the Council bypoll issue.

Maharashtra NCP chief Sunil Tatkare and Pune-based Congress leader Mohan Joshi are in fray for the lone Upper House seat for which by-election is slated on August 21.

Talking to reporters here this evening, MPCC President Manikrao Thakare said the state party leadership was firm that its candidate (Joshi) should not be withdrawn from the fray.

The decision was taken at a meeting attended by senior leaders such as Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, SushilKumar Shinde, Narayan Rane, Ashok Chavan and Shivajirao Deshmukh.     

Thakare, however, maintained that Chavan and NCP President Sharad Pawar are slated to meet late tonight to discuss the issue and take a final call. Tomorrow (August 14) is the last date for withdrawal of nomination papers.

He said the CM had already informed Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar and other NCP leaders that Congress would contest the Council by-election. "Still they (NCP) went ahead and put up their candidate."

The MPCC chief said the party will fight all 288 Assembly seats if such a need arises.

"Congress had sought applications from aspirants from 174 Assembly segments (which it contested in 2009) but in today's meeting, we came to know that NCP was preparing ground to fight all the 288 seats. So, our leaders said we, too, should do the same. Hence, we will seek applications from aspiring candidates in all the 288 seats."

NCP, which contested 114 seats in 2009, had been demanding half of the total constituencies, citing its "expanding" base in the state, where it won four Lok Sabha seats compared to just two by Congress.

Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar met senior party leaders and Ministers at Y B Chavan Centre here to discuss preparations for the Assembly elections likely to he held in October.

NCP spokesman Nawab Malik said seat-sharing pact with Congress would be finalised on August 19-20 in Delhi. Sharad would meet Congress leaders A K Antony and Ahmed Patel on August 19 and hold talks with Prithviraj, Ajit and other state leaders the next day.

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