The Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) agreed on Wednesday in principle to form a stable government in Maharashtra led by a Shiv Sena chief minister, and a “big announcement” is likely to be made on Friday after leaders from the three parties hold their first joint discussions.
“We discussed all aspects related to government formation. Consultations will continue. But certainly, no stable government in Maharashtra can be formed without the three parties coming together,” NCP’s Nawab Malik told reporters after a nearly three-hour-long meeting between leaders of the two alliance partners in New Delhi.
“In principle, the three parties — Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress — have decided to join hands to form a stable coalition government, which will last its full five-year term,” added Malik.
Maharashtra has been in a political vacuum since coming under President’s Rule on November 12 after the October 21 assembly elections produced a hung House in which the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerged as the single largest party with 105 seats. The Shiv Sena won 56, NCP 54 and Congress 44 seats.
The BJP and Shiv Sena, which fought the elections in an alliance, failed to come to an agreement on government formation after the latter demanded an equal sharing of power, including rotational chief ministership, causing the allies to part ways.
“The fact is that we have defeated the self-proclaimed Chanakya of Indian politics,” Malik said, taking a jibe at BJP chief and Union home minister Amit Shah.
Leaders from both the Congress and the NCP are hopeful that a new government in Maharashtra will be formed before the first phase of assembly elections in Jharkhand on November 30.
“We will be able to give (Maharashtra) a stable government as soon as possible,” former chief minister and senior Congress leader Prithviraj Chavan told reporters.
After a second round of discussions that ended close to midnight, Chavan said the two parties decided to hold separate meetings on Thursday before they are scheduled to fly out to Mumbai. “On Friday, the three parties will hold first combined discussions and a big announcement is expected after that meeting. While we (Congress and NCP leaders) were holding our meeting, we were constantly in touch with Shiv Sena leaders in Mumbai and Delhi,” he added.
This is the first time in days that the Congress has unequivocally spoken about government formation in Maharashtra.
After his last meeting with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Monday, NCP chief Sharad Pawar had insisted that he had only briefed her about the political situation in Maharashtra and did not discuss an alliance with the Shiv Sena. That remark sparked speculation and some uncertainty about the fate of the alliance that had been in the making since the Shiv Sena broke up with the BJP this month.
The parties had held frantic talks with each other and within their own parties to iron out differences. “The NCP and Congress objected to Shiv Sena’s proposal to name the grand alliance as “Mahashivaghadi”, insisting that there cannot be dominance of any one particular party in the grouping,” said one of the party functionaries involved in the discussions, asking not to be named.
On Wednesday, Pawar hosted senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge, KC Venugopal, Balasaheb Thorat, Jairam Ramesh and Chavan at his Delhi residence to work out the details of the arrangement with the Shiv Sena.
Apart from a common minimum programme (CMP), the two parties also discussed the charter of demands that will be handed over to the Shiv Sena for acceptance and approval. A Congress leader said all the sticking points in the CMP, including the Shiv Sena’s reservations over the use of the word “secularism” in the document, will soon be addressed.
NCP leaders indicated that the two allies had agreed to let Uddhav Thackeray’s party hold the chief minister’s post although their party would insist on rotating the post after two-and-a-half years. The Congress is likely to have the deputy chief minister’s post for the full five-year term, they said. Both NCP and Congress are engaged in back-channel talks with the Sena.
There is also an agreement that the three potential allies should share the ministerial berths in proportion to their strength in the 288-member assembly.
Before the meeting at Pawar’s residence, the Congress leaders met Gandhi to seek her final approval to join hands with the Shiv Sena.
Both Chavan and Malik said the current spell of President’s Rule in the state had brought administration to a standstill, and the two parties were confident of ending the stalemate.
Earlier in the day, Pawar called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi to discuss farmers’ issues in Maharashtra.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut also told reporters that he was constantly updating party chief Uddhav Thackeray and his son Aditya Thackeray on the developments in Delhi. He also held a series of meetings with Pawar on Wednesday.
“The NCP and the Congress have clearly said that three parties will come together. All three parties have to make a CMP and discuss how it will be implemented,” he said, adding that the process of government formation will not be delayed any further.