New Delhi/Mumbai: Political uncertainty in Maharashtra intensified Monday evening with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari inviting Sharad Pawar’s NCP to prove its ability to form a government. This came barely hours after he refused to give the Shiv Sena a 48-hour extension to secure the numbers.
The NCP has been given until 8.30 pm Tuesday to prove it has the numbers.
The drama played out as the Congress dithered on its support to Uddhav Thackeray’s party, its political and ideological adversary.
NCP leaders who were willing to extend support to the Shiv Sena, provided ally Congress also did, were scheduled to meet Koshyari later in the evening.
An indecisive Congress, at the end of a three-hour meeting between interim party chief Sonia Gandhi and senior leaders at 10 Janpath, said it would hold further consultations.
After the meeting, former Maharashtra CM Prithviraj Chavan said the party would first hold discussions “primarily” with its pre-poll ally NCP and possibly with the Shiv Sena before coming to any conclusion. Gandhi is said to have reservations about joining hands with Uddhav Thackeray’s party because of its aggressive Hindutva ideology and controversial pronouncements and actions in the past.
The governor’s office issued a statement in the evening, informing that he had rejected the Shiv Sena’s demand for 48-hour extension as conveyed by Aaditya Thackeray and other party leaders who visited the Raj Bhavan.
Earlier in the day, as the NCP and the Sena leaders remained huddled in Mumbai, the Congress Working Committee met to discuss the political situation in Maharashtra, which was followed by consultations at 10 Janpath. Gandhi also took a call from Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray but remained non-committal.
She also had a telephonic conversation with NCP chief Sharad Pawar, who had met her in Delhi last week. If the three parties come together, they will have a comfortable majority in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, with the Sena securing 56 seats, the NCP, 54, and the Congress, 44, in last month’s elections.
After the BJP declined to stake claim to form the government in Maharashtra despite being the single-largest party, the governor invited the Shiv Sena to prove majority. The NCP, which had earlier said its mandate was to sit in the opposition, changed its stance Sunday evening, saying it would consider supporting the Sena if the latter quit the NDA. A day later, Shiv Sena’s Arvind Sawant, a union minister, resigned.
Monday saw hectic consultations through the day — first Pawar and Uddhav Thackeray met in Mumbai at Taj Lands End in the afternoon, then NCP’s Milind Narvekar and Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha MP Anil Desai met Congress leader Ahmed Patel in Delhi.
“Uddhav and Pawar discussed all the possibilities and cabinet-sharing decisions. It was then decided that Uddhav will be the CM and NCP leader Ajit Pawar will be made deputy CM,” said a senior NCP leader.
“There was a lot of discussion on how the government will be stabilised for the next five years. They also discussed their manifestos, and will work out a common minimum programme, which will be implemented once government is formed to ensure there is no clash of ideology in running the government.”
In the absence of Rajya Sabha MP Sanjay Raut, who was hospitalised Monday, Shiv Sena’s backroom strategists Desai, Anil Parab and Narvekar held the fort for documentation, making calls, planning meetings with Pawar and being in touch with the Congress in Delhi and Maharashtra. Pawar, Supriya Sule, Praful Patel, Chhagan Bhujbal, and NCP state president Jayant Patil, among others, were stationed at Yashwant Rao Chavan Pratishthan in Mumbai.
The winding road to joining hands
Ever since the Shiv Sena claimed the BJP was backtracking on its promise of sharing the CM’s post, the three parties have been parleying about a possible alliance.
Maharashtra Congress leaders were in touch with both Shiv Sena and NCP, while the high command was talking to the Sena via Pawar. A key demand of the Congress leaders was that the Shiv Sena show commitment to the alliance by exiting the BJP-led NDA.
The Congress high command has been reluctant to forge an alliance with the Hindu nationalist party considering it contradicts the party’s secular agenda. The top leadership thought it would alienate the minorities, causing the party to take a hit nationally.
The Congress’ state leadership, however, had been urging Gandhi to ally with the Shiv Sena to “keep the BJP at bay”.
Earlier in the day, 40 Maharashtra Congress legislators wrote to Gandhi asking her to offer Sena support in light “of new developments and circumstances”.