Maharashtra government formation: ‘Secularism’ emerges as bone of contention

Congress-NCP-Sena announce an in-principle agreement to form government.

Updated - November 21, 2019 01:01 am IST

Published - November 20, 2019 10:44 pm IST - New Delhi

NCP leader Nawab Malik. File

NCP leader Nawab Malik. File

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress on Wednesday announced that an ‘alternative government’ in Maharashtra would be formed soon but a few more round of meetings will take place.

The word ‘secularism’ seems to be a sticking point as the Congress is insisting it to be included in the Common Minimum Programme (CMP) and the Shiv Sena is equally firm on avoiding it, claimed sources.

NCP chief Sharad Pawar is learnt to have suggested that CMP could simply refer to abide by the Preamble of the Constitution that includes secularism.

The announcement of an in-principle agreement for the Congress-NCP-Sena to form the government came on a day when Mr. Pawar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ostensibly to seek a package for farmers who have been hit by unseasonal rains in the State.

“There cannot be any government in Maharashtra without the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress. We are trying our best to resolve issues,” said NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik after a three-hour marathon meeting of Congress and NCP leaders at Mr Pawar's residence.

Former Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan, who was part of the Congress group to discuss the CMP formulation, merely said “talks would continue.”

Senior leaders like Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge, Jairam Ramesh came for a second round of discussions on the CMP late in the evening after consulting Congress chief Sonia Gandhi.

The formulation on secularism is going to be a crucial one for the Congress as one of its allies in Kerala, the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML) met Ms. Gandhi over the possible tie-up with the Sena.

Congress leaders from Kerala including A.K. Antony and K.C. Venugopal have voiced their misgivings to the Congress chief.

Sources say discussions have also revolved around the composition of the government as the NCP has been pushing for a rotational formula for the top post of Chief Minister.

While the Sena will get the Chief Minister’s post and 16 other ministerial slots in all, the NCP and the Congress could get 15 and 12 berths respectively, claimed a source. “Today’s meeting was mainly on the CMP and the agreement on crucial issues like the Hindutva formulation. Other things will follow,” said a senior leader.

The process of government formation hastened after Mr. Pawar’s meeting with the Prime Minister triggered speculation of a political realignment.

The NCP chief, in a series of tweets, claimed he had gone to submit a memorandum to Mr. Modi and invite him to a seminar on sustainable growth. “Due to President’s rule in the State, your urgent intervention is highly necessitated. I shall be grateful if you could take immediate steps to initiate massive relief measures to ameliorate distressed farmers,” read the three-page memorandum given by Mr. Pawar to the Prime Minister.

Shiv Sena Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut, who has been in regular touch with Mr. Pawar, too expressed confidence about government formation. “We are inching towards government formation. The picture will become clear in the next two days and a popular government led by the Shiv Sena will be in place by December,” Mr. Raut said before the series of meetings on the CMP in the evening.

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