New Delhi: The BJP is treading cautiously amid the political drama in Maharashtra, still wary after its 2019 experience, when senior leader Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in as chief minister in a hurry, only to resign 3 days later in the absence of adequate numbers.
The Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA) government finds itself in crisis following an apparent rebellion by its MLA Eknath Shinde, who claims to have the support of 45 of the Shiv Sena’s 55 MLAs.
Shinde, the state’s urban development minister, along with over a dozen Sena MLAs, Tuesday shifted to Gujarat’s Surat. Later in the day, the legislators shifted to Assam’s Guwahati.
Senior BJP leaders told ThePrint that although the party has set its eyes on the state government after trumping the MVA in the Rajya Sabha and state legislative council (MLC) elections, it will not be “acting in haste”.
While the odds appear to be stacked against the MVA government — with a split in Shiv Sena coming to the fore after many MLAs allegedly cross-voted during the MLC elections — the BJP wants the government to “fall on its own”, the leaders said.
The BJP leadership, the party members added, is monitoring the “situation closely” and “may demand a floor test once convinced that the numbers are in Shinde’s favour”.
“We have to be absolutely sure of the numbers. Efforts are on to ensure more MLAs join Shinde. Till that is done, we will not make a demand for a floor test. The MVA government has been struggling for quite some time and we are sure it will disintegrate,” a party leader told ThePrint.
2019 coup debacle, Pilot’s ‘failed rebellion’ in 2020
During the 2019 “coup”, former CM Fadnavis held the post for 80 hours. He resigned after the Supreme Court ordered a floor test and the BJP realised it was short of numbers.
His resignation had come as an embarrassment to Modi-Shah’s BJP, which was said to have engineered an overnight coup in the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to bring in NCP chief Sharad Pawar’s nephew Ajit and form the government in the early hours of a Saturday. While Fadnavis was sworn in as CM, Ajit took oath as his deputy.
Soon after, Sharad Pawar held a joint press conference with Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray to denounce Ajit, and to claim that three of the 10-11 NCP MLAs who had accompanied him to the swearing in had “returned”.
Ajit was later removed as NCP legislature party chief at a meeting where party leaders said 42 of its 54 MLAs were present.
“Under (Sharad) Pawar’s pressure, NCP MLAs returned but this time, the situation is different. The rebel MLAs are from Shiv Sena where the hold of Uddhav is waning,” said a senior BJP leader.
Another experience that weighs heavily on the mind of the BJP leadership is that of Sachin Pilot’s “failed rebellion” in Rajasthan in 2020.
The Congress had at the time accused the BJP of attempting to destabilise its government in the state and poaching its MLAs. But the Congress was able to put its house in order.
While Union Minister Narayan Rane has come out openly in support of Shinde, BJP state president Chandrakant Patil said his party had nothing to do with the crisis in the MVA government.
“Well done, Eknath ji, you took the right decision at the appropriate time. Otherwise, soon you would have ended up like Anand Dighe,” Rane tweeted.
Addressing the media, Patil claimed that “so far, there has not been any proposal regarding government formation, neither from the BJP nor from Eknath Shinde. However, in politics anything can happen any time”.
Praising Shinde for displaying “immense courage”, Patil said the Maharashtra minister has “friends in all parties”.
The second BJP leader quoted above said the party “is wary of past misadventures of Ajit Pawar and knowing Sharad Pawar’s political strength in pursuing other Independent MLAs, it will be careful before making its next move”.
‘First strategy is to get required numbers’
Maharashtra’s MVA government — an alliance of the Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress under Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray, the chief of the Sena — has 152 MLAs (169 including Independents). This is above the halfway mark of 144 in the 288-member House.
The BJP has 106 legislators. In the MLC elections, the party got 28 more votes than its strength (including votes of 7 MLAs from smaller parties and Independents). It polled 134 votes, but even with this number would need around a dozen MLAs for a majority.
The party is said to be aiming for even more MLAs to ensure a smooth-sailing government, if it is formed.
Senior BJP leader in Maharashtra Kirit Somaiya told ThePrint: “We are saying that there is huge unrest in the coalition. Leaders are desperate to jump ship. After the council polls, it is clear that the MVA has lost the trust of their own members, smaller parties and Independents.”
Another senior BJP leader said that the “first strategy of the party is to get the required numbers to pull down the MVA government”.
“The assembly is at the halfway mark of its term. Many MLAs are hesitant to go to polls at this time as Pawar can make a case of how the mandate was stolen through agencies, so it’s best to run government for the remaining term,” he added.
The leader further said that there is “no clarity in the changed circumstances”.
“We know the result of the recent bypoll where the MVA won, so it is the best possible scenario to let the government run,” the leader said.
“Who wants to lose the chance of running a government? But all decisions will be taken once we are convinced that dissidents have the required number and other parties are on board.”
If Shinde fails in getting the required numbers, President’s Rule is the next option, the leader said. “If Shinde does not get the required numbers, BJP can demand President’s Rule for the time being in case MVA is reduced to a minority in a floor test.”
(Edited by Gitanjali Das)