For the first time in its 59-year old history, Maharashtra, India's second most politically important state and base of the country's financial centre, is facing an intriguing, political situation after the October 21 Assembly elections.
On October 24, the polls threw up a fractured mandate with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party getting 105, its then ally Shiv Sena 56, the opposition Nationalist Congress Party 54 and Congress 44, and the rest Independents and smaller parties.
After this outcome 22 days ago, a bewildering situation has unfolded in which all the parties – individually and as past or upcoming groups – confidently claiming that they would form the state government.
For the 22nd consecutive day on Friday, BJP state president Chandrakant Patil edgily reassured that it was not possible to form the government without including its 105 MLAs, plus others making a total of 119 legislators, but has simultaneously claimed that the party will adopt “a wait-and-watch attitude” for the present.
On the Sena front, its MP Sanjay Raut full-throatily declared, again for the 22nd day non-stop, that “only a Shiv Sena-led government will take office soon” at his tete-a-tete with media persons on Friday.
Its prospective allies – the Congress-NCP – have proclaimed that a government with Shiv Sena as the main partner would be sworn-in soon and the nitty-gritty is being worked out.
Amidst all these “morale-boosters”, it is only the newly-elected legislators of all parties and the media persons who seem to be most concerned about the ongoing government formation efforts in Maharashtra.
Sena President Uddhav Thackeray, Congress’ state chief Balasaheb Thorat and even NCP chief Sharad Pawar, have repeatedly counselled their nail-biting legislators that “All Is Well”, and there is no possibility of the dreaded mid-term elections anytime.
All the three parties also point out that when they needed just a couple of days’ time, they have now got six months duration (President’s Rule) within which to form the government, sending scary thoughts among the legislators and rattling the weary media.
Presently, sources in all parties reveal their version of the possible unfolding political plot in the government formation imbroglio.
The BJP is confident that it will return to power, and former CM Devendra Fadnavis will be able to vindicate his promise – “Mee punha yaeen” – with a second term swearing-in. But nobody is willing to explain how it hopes to touch the magic figure of 145 for a simple majority in the 288-member house.
In a strange contradiction, the party leaders also darkly warn that any “khichdi” dispensation being dished out by the others would not last beyond a few days/weeks, and again the reins of power would come under BJP’s control.
On the other hand, if their alliance is finalized, the Sena-NCP-Congress already command a clear total figure of 154 MLAs (56+54+44 respectively), plus some independents and other parties, which could give it a significant edge over the BJP’s 119.
Then why the delays, demand their exasperated legislators in private and in party meetings, as also the frustrated media.
Former Leader of Opposition Vijay Wadettiwar, of the Congress, patiently tried to explain on Thursday – saying that “the main challenge is not government formation, but to sustain it for the full five-year term” by the three prospective allies (Sena-NCP-INC) on the basis of a Common Minimum Programme (CMP).
To questions on the BJP’s claims that it would form the government, Pawar, Thorat and Raut have thrown the gauntlet – “Let them (BJP) go to Governor and stake their claim!”
Officially, the three potential allies have finalized their CMP and awaiting the nod of the respective party high commands – Sena’s Thackeray, NCP’s Pawar and Congress’ Sonia Gandhi.
Off record, party sources indicate that various power-sharing formulae have been discussed pertaining to the post of CM, the term (30-60 months), the post of Deputy CM, the heavy-medium-light ministerial portfolios and the coveted post of Speaker.
“We are hopeful that Pawar-Sonia will finalise things at their Sunday meeting in New Delhi and an announcement would be made soon on government formation,” said a senior Sena leader.
As if all this was not enough, there are wild cloak-and-dagger stories that some influential corporate houses maybe indulging in back-office politicking to ensure their favourite party/parties come to power in the state.
Sharad Pawar asserted on Friday that the proposed Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government will be formed soon and serve its full five-year term.
While speaking with media persons, he dismissed the possibility of holding mid-term elections in the state, which is now under President’s Rule.
“The three parties sincerely want to form a stable and sustaining government with an emphasis on development and progress in the state on a Common Minimum Programme,” Pawar said.
He added that presently, the three parties are finalising their CMP with a series of discussions and the final roadmap would emerge only after that.
Pawar denied reports that the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was having discussions with the NCP to form the government or there were pressures from some corporate houses in the matter.
“We are only discussing with the Congress, Sena and our other allies. Nothing beyond these representatives of all the three parties have met in Mumbai to finalise the draft CMP,” Pawar said.
To question on former Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis’ comments that the upcoming Sena-NCP-Congress government would collapse after six months, Pawar was amused.
“I have known Fadnavis for many years. But I never knew he was also an astrologer. I am reminded of his lines – Mee punha yaeen, Mee punha yaeen, Mee punha yaeen” Pawar remarked amidst laughter.
To a question on whether the Sena would be willing to compromise on its Hindutva credentials vis-a-vis the Congress-NCP’s secular ideals, Pawar said that the Congress-NCP always speaks of secularism, “that doesn’t mean we are against anybody else”.
On the power-sharing formula and who will hold the CM’s post, Pawar said everything will fall into place once the CMP is finalised and accepted by all the parties.
Political sources say that among the formulae being discussed include the Sena getting the CM’s post for full five years, the Congress-NCP getting one Deputy CM, portfolios in the ratio of Sena and NCP 14 each, and Congress 12 plus the post of Legislative Assembly Speaker.
On Sunday, Pawar is likely to meet Congress Interim President Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi and brief her on the deliberations with the Sena here and the further course of action.
Meetings between the Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Shiv Sena to arrive at a consensus on the common minimum programme (CMD) to form the government in Maharashtra have gathered pace, with the three parties now set to meet Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari together on Saturday over the plight of the farmers hit by rain.
While the political activity is moving fast in Mumbai, giving indications of government formation in Maharashtra, the developments in Delhi have slowed down, sources said.
Though continuing with the talks, Congress still has apprehensions about various issues regarding a tie-up with the Shiv Sena.
Top sources within the Congress said that clarity on the tie-up will be evident only after NCP chief Sharad Pawar meets Congress interim President Sonia Gandhi in the national capital on Sunday. The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m.
The state Congress leaders are excited about the formation of government in Maharashtra, but in Delhi, the party is still thinking of possible ramifications of supporting a party with strong Hindutva ideology, the sources said.
The party is wary of the tantrums of the Shiv Sena, and therefore the deal would depend on the deliberations between Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi. (IANS)