Two Shiv Sena leaders reportedly met the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) think-tank in New Delhi late on Tuesday night, TV reports said on Wednesday, triggering speculation over whether the erstwhile allies were close to joining hands and forming a coalition government in Maharashtra.
Sena leaders Anil Desai and Subhash Desai left for Mumbai early on Wednesday and are likely to meet party chief Uddhav Thackeray, the reports added.
The development came amid signs that Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was ready to soften stand on the issue of offering support to the BJP to form a government.
The BJP, which has bagged 122 of the 288 seats in Maharashtra in the recently held assembly elections and is in a commanding position, refrained from contacting the Sena - which has 63 MLAs - despite the latter hinting on the results day that it was ready for talks if the BJP made an overture.
The BJP playing a hardball on the issue came in the light of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - with 41 legislators in the House - offering unconditional support to the saffron party.
What put the Sena in fast-forward mode on Tuesday to send its emissaries to Delhi was senior BJP leader Om Mathur saying his party was ready to form a government on its own, with the help of independents.
The single-largest party in the state, BJP needs support of just 23 MLAs from outside.
He also said parties interested in backing them should meet Union minister and senior BJP leader Rajnath Singh, who will be in Mumbai after Diwali.
Singh postponed his visit to the city on Tuesday, leading to reports that the government in the state will be formed only after Diwali.
Video:Happy in Delhi now, will support anyone BJP selects as Maharashtra CM: Nitin Gadkari
Following Mathur's statement, senior Sena leader Diwakar Raote said the Sena will meet Singh. "We are clear we will not interfere in the process of appointing the chief minister. Like-minded parties that believe in the concept of Hindutva should come together," he said.
The Sena also denied having put forth any conditions to the BJP. "We have not sent a proposal to the BJP. The only condition is Maharashtra should be kept united and we will support a progressive government," Desai said.
For now, the Sena has taken the first step to extending support. The ball is now in the BJP's court.
The two parties severed a 25-year tie of ahead of the elections following differences over the sgaring of seats.
Who'll be the CM?
In a fresh twist to the Maharashtra story, Union minister and senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari may emerge as an eleventh hour contender for the Maharashtra chief minister's job, if Devendra Fadnavis fails to make it as a consensus candidate.
Gadkari ruled out returning to state politics, but added the final decision on his new assignment would be taken by the party's high command.
He later indicated he would take up the chief minister's job when he told the media he would follow the decision of the party leadership.
However, TV reports said on Wednesday that Maharashtra state unit chief Fadnavis was still the front runner for the CM's post.
Meanwhile, Nagpur-East MLA Krishna Khopde offered to quit and vacate his seat to pave way for his mentor Nitin Gadkari, after voices grew louder on bringing back the Union minister to the state to don the CM's mantle.
Khopde, a second term MLA, told PTI that he was willing to resign for Gadkari from his constituency.
When contacted over the turn of events, Phadanvis, remained tight-lipped and made no comments.
Gadkari had said that he was ready to accept any responsibility given to him by the party's central leadership, according to a PTI report.
About 39 BJP MLAs all from Vidarbha region had met Gadkari at his residence on Tuesday and demanded that he be made the state's chief minister.
Vidarbha had overwhelmingly come out in support of BJP, which won 44 out of 62 seats in the region.
(with PTI inputs)