The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Sunday abandoned efforts to form the government in Maharashtra, citing the Shiv Sena’s “insult to the mandate” and virtually challenging its pre-poll ally to stitch together a majority with the help of the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) after a fortnight of bickering over power-sharing in the state.
Hours later, governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari asked the Sena, which won 56 seats, to indicate by Monday evening its ability to form the government. The NCP said it will support the Sena’s bid for power if the regional outfit walks out of the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance and finalises a common minimum programme.
Sunday’s political drama came a day after Koshyari asked the BJP, which emerged as the single-largest party in last month’s assembly elections, to indicate its “willingness and ability” to form the government in the state.
The BJP’s surprise announcement capped hectic political activity during the day, which saw the party’s core committee meet twice in Mumbai to ascertain its stand. After meeting the governor in the evening, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil said: “The mandate of the people of Maharashtra was for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance. The Sena has, however, disrespected the mandate, hence we have decided to not stake claim to form government. We have informed our decision to governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari.”
He wished the Uddhav Thackeray-led party “good luck” to form the government, if it wanted, in alliance with the Congress and the NCP. The BJP and the Sena together won 161 seats in the 288-member assembly, comfortably above the halfway mark of 145. While the Congress won 44 seats, the Sharad Pawar-led NCP secured 54 seats.
A statement by the governor’s office on Sunday night said: “The governor of Maharashtra, Shri Bhagat Singh Koshyari today asked the leader of elected members of the second largest party, the Shiv Sena, Eknath Shinde to indicate the willingness and ability of his party to form the government.” The BJP’s move, seen by political analysts as a dare to the Sena, came two days after Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis resigned amid a belligerent war of words between the two parties. The impasse began immediately after the election results on October 24. The two parties have squabbled over key portfolios and a demand of rotating the CM’s post.
The Sena chief alleged the BJP had agreed to a “50:50” power-sharing formula but later reneged on it. Fadnavis, on the other hand, rejected Thackeray’s claims that BJP chief Amit Shah agreed to his demand for rotational chief ministership.
The BJP’s surprise move on Sunday prompted hurried reactions from the Sena, Congress and NCP. With the BJP stepping aside, the focus has now shifted to the stand of the Congress and the NCP, which collectively have 98 MLAs. Senior Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said his party will install its CM at any cost. “Maharashtra will have Sena’s chief minister at any cost. Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday informed the party MLAs that Sena will have its chief minister.” He had earlier claimed the Sena had the support of 170 MLAs.
Senior leaders of the Congress huddled together in Jaipur to chalk out the party’s move in view of the latest developments. The 44 MLAs of the party are currently in Jaipur, where Rajasthan chief minister Ashok Gehlot and senior party leader Mallikarjun Kharge held discussions with them.The party has appointed Ahmed Patel and Madhusudan Mistri as the party’s observers in Maharashtra, a Congress leader said. A leader, who is currently in Rajasthan, said: “The MLAs have passed another resolution, authorising the president [Sonia Gandhi] to take a decision on who should be the CLP of the party in the Maharashtra legislature.”
The Congress said it did not want President’s Rule in the state, where the term of the assembly expired on November 9. Party leader Ashok Chavan said newly elected MLAs of the party will seek advice from the party high-command over the next move. “We are in Jaipur. We will discuss the issue here and will seek advice for the future political stand. The party doesn’t want President’s Rule in the state,” Chavan said, adding that he was in favour of forming a stable government in Maharashtra.
NCP national spokesperson Nawab Malik said the party had decided to support the Sena on certain terms and conditions. “Firstly, the Shiv Sena should leave the BJP-led NDA and declare it officially after that we have to finalise our common minimum programme. Only after that, the NCP will support the Shiv Sena to form government.”
Besides its 105 MLAs, the BJP earlier claimed the support of several independents and smaller parties, though the exact figures were not clear.
The BJP and the Sena’s war of words has included vitriolic editorials in its mouthpiece Saamana, approaches to NCP chief Pawar to explore an alternative government, ferrying Sena MLAs into a hotel to prevent horse-trading, statements from the BJP that any pact over the CM’s post was figment of the Sena’s imagination, and repeated assertions that Fadnavis would return to power.
Fadnavis and Thackeray held separate news briefings on Friday, attacking each other over the lack of consensus on the power-sharing formula. Fadnavis accused the party of lying about the “50-50 formula” and its chief Thackeray of snapping channels of communication. Minutes later, Thackeray accused the BJP of “calling my family a liar for the first time”. If the Sena fails to gather the required numbers to form the government, the governor may recommend President’s Rule, which will have to be vetted by Parliament in two months.