A day after Maharashtra Assembly polls gave a fractured verdict, major political parties on Monday went into a huddle exploring ways for government formation but the picture remained nebulous with speculation rife about whether it will be an NCP-propped BJP Ministry or a coalition regime with Shiv Sena.
The standoff between former allies, the BJP and the Shiv Sena, whose coming together will obviate the need for an outside support from the NCP, continued even after Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s phone call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP chief Amit Shah on Sunday to congratulate them on the party’s electoral triumph in Maharashtra and Haryana.
The newly elected Shiv Sena MLAs met and authorised party Mr. Thackeray to choose their leader in the House but there was no discussion at the meeting on reviving the 25-year-old alliance that fell apart just before the election following failure of seat-sharing talks.
“All the newly elected MLAs met Uddhavji today and they unanimously took a decision to give him the right of choosing the legislative party leader,” Sena MP Sanjay Raut said after the meeting.
“Today’s meet was not about the BJP. Therefore, we haven’t discussed BJP at all. A final decision will be taken by Uddhav ji and conveyed to the media in due course,” he said.
Another Sena MP Anil Desai said “no overture” was made to BJP on a reunion and the meeting was called just to authorise Mr. Thackeray to select a new legislature party leader.
Om Mathur, BJP’s in-charge for the Assembly polls, said the party was “open to all” in its quest for forming government “but there has been no proposal” from the Sena.
“In the interest of Maharashtra and for government formation, all doors are open,” he said when asked if the BJP had accepted the NCP’s offer of outside support.
BJP general secretary in-charge of Maharashtra Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and another general secretary J.P. Nadda, appointed observers for election of the legislature party leader, will discuss “in depth” the issue of ties with the Sena.
“After Rajnath Singh and J.P. Nadda arrive, the top BJP leadership will have a conclusive statement as to how we are going to proceed with our alliance. As of now, BJP is confining itself to that it is going to stake the claim for chief ministership of Maharashtra,” he said.
Mr. Singh and Mr. Nadda are likely to arrive in Mumbai on Monday night.
He also said BJP Parliamentary Board, the party’s highest decision-making body, had not discussed the NCP’s offer.
As the picture remained hazy, NCP chief Sharad Pawar defended the party’s decision to extend “outside support” to the BJP, which has emerged as the largest party in the 288-member Assembly with 122 seats, saying it was the “best alternative” to usher in a “stable” government.
“Offering outside support to BJP was the best among alternatives before us. We have to ensure a stable government comes in Maharashtra,” Mr. Sharad Pawar said, addressing newly elected MLAs after nephew and former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar was elected leader of the NCP legislature party.
Mr. Ajit Pawar said no other combination was feasible going by the number of seats won by major parties.
Mr. Ajit Pawar claimed he was approached by a Congress leader who proposed forming a coalition government with the Congress, the NCP and the Sena as constituents.
“A Congress leader contacted me on phone and suggested we form a government that also includes Shiv Sena...I told him together we have 146 MLAs and the government thus cobbled together will not be stable,” he said.
While the Congress has 42 MLAs in the 288-member Assembly, the NCP has 41 and the Sena 63.
Though the BJP has emerged as the largest party in the House with 122 seats and its ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha one, it is still 22 seats short of the magic figure of 145.
As the BJP was certain to form government, political circles were abuzz about the prospective Chief Minister but State party president Devendra Fadnavis looked a clear favourite.
Though names of the Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Assembly Eknath Khadse, his counterpart in the Legislative Council Vinod Tawde, who has won the Assembly election, former State BJP chief Sudhir Mungantiwar, Pankaja Munde, daughter of Union Minister late Gopinath Munde, are doing the rounds as top contenders, Mr. Fadnavis looked like having an edge.
The 44-year-old fourth-term MLA from Nagpur, who has a clean image, has roots in the RSS and had come in for special praise by Mr. Modi who described him as “Nagpur’s gift to the nation” at an election rally.
As the youngest Mayor of Nagpur at 27, Mr. Fadnavis had introduced the popular scheme of publicly maintained toilets in the city, something that would not escape Mr. Modi’s notice, especially after the much-publicised launch of his own “Swachch Bharat’ campaign.