New Delhi: On Friday afternoon, as the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress huddled together to finalise the nitty-gritty of forming a government in Maharashtra, Governor B.S. Koshyari received a letter from NCP legislative party leader Ajit Pawar stating his willingness to form a government with the BJP, ThePrint has learnt.
According to sources in the BJP, former chief minister Devendra Fadnavis also sent a letter to Koshyari around the same time, apart from a letter of support from 15 independent MLAs.
“At around 2-2.30 pm, a letter was sent from the BJP and NCP to the Governor saying they had the numbers. Following this, certain formalities were carried out in the evening and the Governor sent a report to the President,” a BJP source said.
Overnight, President’s Rule was lifted and the Governor invited Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar for their swearing-in ceremony. A cabinet meeting revoking President’s rule was not required for this purpose, the BJP source added, as had been necessary when President’s rule had been imposed.
“Fadnavis said he would be CM and Ajit Pawar would be deputy CM, so they were both invited for the swearing-in ceremony early morning Saturday. The ceremony was also attended by NCP MLAs at Raj Bhavan,” the BJP source said.
BJP also rushed general secretary and in-charge of elections in Maharashtra, Bhupendra Yadav, to Mumbai. He reached by Friday evening.
According to a second BJP source, the party got in touch with NCP soon after the Shiv Sena began its own process of dialogue with NCP and Congress.
“Does the Shiv Sena think only it can get in touch with other parties? When we realised that the situation was such that we had to look for alternatives, we began talks with the NCP. At this time the NCP leadership also realised it was much more feasible to have a government with two-party support rather than with three,” the second BJP source said.
“Our talks (between BJP and NCP) were going on for quite some time and we were able to firm them up on Friday afternoon, following which letters were sent to the Governor,” the first source told ThePrint.
Asked whether Sharad Pawar was not in the loop as he has been maintaining, a party source said it was highly unlikely that he had no clue.
“Pawar ji had a meeting with the PM and while it may have been primarily about the farmers, is it possible that such an important political situation of Maharashtra would not have been discussed? He is just trying to confuse everyone now with his statements,” the first source added.
On Saturday morning, Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in as the Maharashtra chief minister and deputy CM, respectively.
How Ajit Pawar played his hand
According to the second source in BJP, the letter that was sent by Ajit Pawar on 12 November to Governor B.S. Koshyari asking for more time to form the government, was an indicator that he was in touch with the BJP and was simply seeking more time.
On Friday, Ajit Pawar left the Congress and NCP meeting midway saying he was going to see a lawyer. However, he was actually meeting Devendra Fadnavis at the time.
“Fadnavis indicated Ajit Pawar’s support to Amit Shah Friday afternoon,” said the first BJP source.
Following this, BJP president Amit Shah sent Bhupendra Yadav to Mumbai to oversee a smooth coordination of final talks and an early morning swearing-in.
“Pawar handed a letter of support of 54 MLAs in his capacity as leader of the NCP legislature party to the BJP,” the first source said.
One BJP leader who spoke to ThePrint said that “it was not easy” to convince Ajit Pawar.
“Until the last moment we were banking on Shiv Sena. We were hoping that the Congress would not be comfortable with forming an alliance with Sena. And the Sena’s past experience of bargains would open a window to the BJP to strike,” said a third BJP leader on condition of anonymity.
“However, when the BJP sensed that Uddhav Thackeray had gone too far to return to the alliance, it started talks on the next available option, which was to bank on Ajit Pawar’s ambitions and difference within the Pawar family,” said a source.
How the math worked out
Now that it has formed the government, the BJP claims it has the support of 170 MLAs — the majority mark is 144 — even as the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress have begun discussions about what kind of legal recourse to adopt.
“Ajit Pawar is the legislative party leader and can be elected and removed by all party MLAs only. Sharad Pawar can’t remove him. We will win the floor test as Ajit Pawar, as the party leader, will issue a whip and those who won’t follow will run the risk of getting disqualified. So we are quite confident,” added the first source quoted above to explain how Sharad Pawar’s nephew has the support of all NCP MLAs.
Ajit Pawar was elected NCP legislative party leader on 30 October.
The BJP sources also pointed out that since the Speaker would be from BJP, it would be easy for Ajit to get required the 36 MLAs, if not all 54, to prove their majority in the House.
The BJP has 105 seats in the Maharashtra assembly while the NCP has 54. The Shiv Sena and Congress and Congress have 56 and 44 seats, respectively.
On Saturday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar said Ajit’s decision was totally “against the party”.
BJP even eyed Congress MLAs
Sources in the BJP said that other options were on the table after the imposition of President’s Rule, including breaking the Congress. But many felt this would not be a stable option.
“The BJP has taken support of the NCP earlier, so we had some familiarity and decided to go for that option,” said another source in the BJP.
“The BJP had kept several options open, including staying very quiet on the Shiv Sena and not opposing even a Sena mayor in BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation), just in case it needed to keep a window open for last moment arrangements,” the source said.
“At the same time, BJP negotiators were talking to Ajit Pawar for the last four days to pressurise him to switch sides,” added the source.
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