The NCP-Congress was the second largest pre-poll alliance after the BJP-Shiv Sena and together have 98 MLAs.
New Delhi/Mumbai: In a fresh twist to the Maharashtra political saga, Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Monday invited Sharad Pawar-led Nationalist Congress Party to explore government formation after the Shiv Sena failed to muster the requisite numbers within the 24 hours allotted to it as the Congress remained undecided on extending support to it.
The NCP-Congress was the second largest pre-poll alliance after the BJP-Shiv Sena and together have 98 MLAs. They would definitely need the support of Shiv Sena, which has 56 MLAs, to form a government in the state.
The big question now is whether the Shiv Sena, which failed to muster the numbers after the Congress did not give it a letter of support, would agree to prop up an NCP-Congress government.
While claiming that it was undecided on extending support to a Shiv Sena government, the Congress after a series of meetings since Monday morning, including of its all-powerful Congress Working Committee, issued an official statement saying that it would continue “discussions with the NCP”.
While NCP president Sharad Pawar has been in constant touch with the top Congress leadership, including party president Sonia Gandhi, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackerey also called up Mrs Gandhi seeking support.
Congress sources said the party was deeply divided on supporting the Sena, which is seen as a ideological rival. While a section (read the Maharashtra leadership) felt that not only should the Congress support a Sena government to keep the BJP out of power, it should also join the government to revive the party in the state, the other section, which has many leaders from the south, specially Kerala, felt that it should not compromise on ideology and mate with a Hindutva party.
However, a senior leader maintained that the Congress was in-principle ready to support the Shiv Sena-NCP. But it remained unclear why the party dithered at the last minute.
Even as the Congress’ top leaders were deliberating on extending support, Shiv Sena’s newly-elected MLA and the Thackerey family scion Aditya Thackerey met the governor and sought more time to get the letters of support. The governor rejected the request and within half-an-hour invited the next largest party, NCP, to form the government.
Following this, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik told reporters in Mumbai that party leader Ajit Pawar and Chagan Bhujbal have gone to meet governor Koshiyari and get the letter of invitation.
In case the NCP-Congress too fail to muster the numbers, then the state would be heading towards President’s rule with the governor having explored all possibilities of government formation.
However, politically the situation remained positive for an alternative formation to take shape as none of the parties would want fresh elections, specially the Shiv Sena which divorced its long-time ally BJP over claims to the chief ministers’ chair. Its lone minister in the Union Cabinet, Arvind Sawant, resigned Monday morning.
Some Congress leaders maintained that though Mrs Gandhi gave “in-principle” okay to support the Shiv Sena, the deal got stuck on some tough bargaining. They said that it was Sharad Pawar who was dealing with the Shiv Sena, and the Congress would let him handle all negotiations.
According to the sources, one of the formulae thrashed out by the NCP included Uddhav Thackarey as the chief minister, Ajit Pawar as the deputy chief minister, Congress getting the Speaker’s chair and 14 ministers of each party.
However, the NCP-Congress wanted two deputy chief ministers, one each for their parties. The Shiv Sena also offered only six ministers to the Congress.
In the recently concluded elections to the 288-member Maharashtra Assembly, the BJP won 105 seats, Shiv Sena 56, NCP 54 and the Congress 44. Monday was the 18th day of stalemate of government formation in the state. Both Shiv Sena and the Congress have kept their MLAs in resorts in Maharashtra and Rajasthan.
The political drama is likely to continue tomorrow with further discussions likely to take place between the NCP and Congress.
“The governor had called us as the third largest party and asked our willingness and ability to form the government. We have told him that we will consult our alliance partner Congress and get back as early as possible,” said senior NCP leader Jayant Patil.