The stage for political parleys to form the next Maharashtra government shifted to Delhi on Monday with high-profile meetings by government and opposition leaders, but neither side appeared close to a majority with an end-of-the-week deadline looming.
Incumbent chief minister Devendra Fadnavis met Union home minister Amit Shah, and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar held discussions with Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi, roughly 10 days after the assembly election results threw up a hung House.
The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won 105 seats followed by the Shiv Sena at 56, the NCP 54 and the Congress 44. The majority mark is 145. Independents and smaller parties won 29 seats.
Since then, pre-poll allies BJP and Shiv Sena have squabbled over a demand of rotating the chief minister’s position and 50:50 allocation of portfolios. The Sena has also sent feelers to the Congress and NCP, but the opposition parties have not officially responded.
Fadnavis met Shah for 40 minutes and also had a closed-door interaction with party general secretary Bhupendra Yadav, who is also the election in-charge for the western state. “There is a need to form the government in Maharashtra at the earliest… I am sure, I am confident that the government will be formed,” Fadnavis told reporters.
Later in the day, Pawar briefed Gandhi about the ground situation in Maharashtra, with senior Congress leader AK Antony also present. The outcome of the meeting was unclear.
When asked if Gandhi has ruled out any support to the Sena in government formation, a senior Congress leader said, “Not sure, but it seems.” A second senior leader said that the Congress leadership was averse to openly backing the Sena but the possibility could arise if the CM’s post was offered to the NCP.
Pawar indicated that no final decision was taken on government formation. “We have decided to meet again. I am going to Mumbai tomorrow, discuss with my colleagues and then come back and brief her again,” the NCP chief told reporters.
“As of this moment today, the numbers are not with us and the mandate for us is to sit in the Opposition. But can’t say what will happen in future,” he added.
The deadline for government formation is November 9, when the term of the current legislative assembly expires. Former parliamentary affairs secretary Afzal Amanullah said that if no government is formed before the end of the tenure of the current assembly, then the governor will have to impose President’s Rule.
“If the tenure of the House ends, there will not be any elected lawmaker who can be given the interim charge. So, there will be no other option but to impose President’s Rule,” said Amanullah.
Despite overtures by the BJP, the Sena has refused to budge from its demands, and on Monday, party leaders met governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari. “We told him that a new government should be formed at the earliest and we will not be a hurdle in this. Whoever has the majority should form the government,” said senior leader Sanjay Raut.
Relations between the BJP and the Sena have soured during the protracted negotiation. On Monday, the Tarun Bharat, a Marathi newspaper considered close to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the ideological fount of the BJP, attacked the Sena and said the people wouldn’t forgive the party if the BJP-led alliance failed to form the government.
“The mandate of the people was for BJP-Sena alliance and the BJP emerged as the ‘big brother’ winning 105 seats while the Sena was reduced to 56 seats,” an editorial in the paper said and asked how the Sena could claim the post of chief minister.
A senior state BJP leader said on condition of anonymity that the BJP would wait for the Sena until the last minute but keep other options open.
“We are hopeful that the BJP-Shiv Sena coalition government will be formed in Maharashtra,” a central BJP leader privy to discussions said. This leader ruled out any offer of rotating the CM’s post and added that the 50:50 formula, referred to by Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, was related to the allocation of ministerial portfolios.
A second central BJP leader said Fadnavis discussed with the party leadership possible ministerial berths that could be allocated to the Sena, and the appointment of a deputy chief minister. “There could a deputy chief minister from the BJP as well, if the Sena gets that position,” the second leader said.
A Sena leader indicated that the impasse could be resolved. “It is all up to Uddhavji. However, it sounds like the BJP will accept the 50-50 agreement,” he added.
In the Congress, there is a clear division over extending support to the Sena.
A section in the Congress is opposed to the move due to the ideological differences between the two parties and insist that the Sena was just trying to get a better deal from the BJP and may not go far as to form a government outside the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
But Pawar made it clear that he thought the deadlocked government formation talks were serious. “I don’t think it is a bargaining game going on. It is a serious one and what I am reading in their writings [in Saamana] it is clear that they (Shiv Sena) want to lead the government in Maharashtra,” he said.
The other section in the Congress is keen on keeping the BJP out of power in Maharashtra and wants the Shiv Sena to come up with a concrete proposal for the Congress leadership to consider it.
As no side appeared ready to stake claim to form the government, a controversy over defections broke out after an independent legislator backing the BJP, Ravi Rana, said that 20 to 25-odd Sena legislators were in touch with the BJP. The BJP immediately dismissed the speculation. “There is no need for this as we are confident that a BJP-Sena government will come to power,” said BJP leader and state finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar.
The Opposition said no defection will be tolerated. “We will all come together (Congress, NCP and Sena) to put up a joint candidate against any legislator who will defect now to join the BJP. Defections will not be tolerated,” said NCP state chief Jayant Patil.
Political analysts said the current scenario seemed unpredictable but that the BJP-Sena alliance still had the advantage. “The BJP will wait and watch for the Sena to accept its new power-sharing proposal. It will be in the Sena’s best interests to align with the BJP instead of going for a minority government supported by the NCP-Congress,” said political analyst Surendra Jondhale.