Allies strike power deal ahead of Uddhav Thackeray’s oath as Maharashtra CM
Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) will get to nominate a deputy chief minister and a Congress MLA will occupy the assembly Speaker’s position, the newly formed three-party alliance, Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, said on Wednesday as the state prepared for Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s swearing-in as chief minister.
Senior NCP leader Praful Patel made the announcement after a six-hour meeting of the three parties. All other ministerial portfolios will be announced after the new dispensation proves its majority before the December 3 deadline set by the governor.
“How many ministers take the oath will be decided tonight. One or two MLAs from each party will take the oath as ministers. It is not decided yet how many ministers will take the oath with the chief minister tomorrow,” said Patel. The alliance claims the support of 166 legislators, well above the halfway mark of 145 in the 288-member assembly.
The announcement came hours after dissident NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who stunned the party on Saturday morning by breaking ranks and backing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), returned to the party fold. “It was not a revolt. I was the leader of NCP. Did NCP remove me? Did you read [about my removal from NCP] somewhere?” Ajit Pawar asked reporters.
Outside, many of his supporters hailed him as a future chief minister and a senior party leader said the front-runners for the deputy CM’s position were Ajit Pawar and assembly floor leader Jayant Patil. “All is well in the family now,” said Hemant Takle, national secretary of the NCP.
The BJP’s Devendra Fadnavis resigned as chief minister and Ajit Pawar, nephew of NCP supremo Sharad Pawar, resigned as deputy chief minister on Tuesday afternoon after it became clear that the government lacked a majority. He then went to meet Sharad Pawar and was also greeted by senior party MP Supriya Sule, who, two days ago, had termed his actions a betrayal.
“Whatever has happened, leave it behind. I did not feel like disclosing all the details of what has happened in the last few days,” Ajit Pawar told party legislators at a meeting.
Ajit Pawar’s return marked the end of four days of turbulence in NCP’s first family as the focus shifted to the oath-taking ceremony of Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, who will become the first person in the powerful Thackeray family to hold a constitutional post.
The alliance has attempted to use the 6.40pm event, to be held in central Mumbai’s Shivaji Park, as a grand show of strength for opposition parties and invited a number of prominent non-BJP leaders, including the chief ministers of West Bengal, Delhi, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (Mamata Banerjee, Arvind Kejriwal, Kamal Nath and Bhupesh Baghel, respectively). Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) chief MK Stalin was also invited.
Thackeray also invited Prime Minister Narendra Modi and spoke to him over the phone, said Sena leaders.
Late in the evening, Thackeray’s son Aaditya landed in Delhi to invite Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and former prime minister Manmohan Singh to the ceremony. It was unclear whether the senior Congress leaders will attend the event.
Sena leaders also invited about 400 farmers to the event, many from the parched northern Maharashtra region that has reported a number of farmer suicides.
Senior leaders from all three parties said the Sena was likely to get 16 berths, including the CM’s position. The NCP was expected to get 14 berths, including the deputy CM’s position, and the Congress 12 ministries. A couple of smaller allies may also be accommodated.
“We have finalised the formula of the sharing of the ministerial berths and also statutory boards, statutory corporations and the seats of the legislative council,” Patel said.
The Sena geared up for Thursday’s swearing-in ceremony at Shivaji Park, where Thackeray’s father Bal Thackeray founded the party in 1966 and which has served as the venue for the party chief’s annual address.
Art director Nitin Desai is designing the stage, which is being designed in the likeness of the historic Raigad Fort that was once the capital of legendary Maratha king Shivaji. A giant screen would be mounted on the stage to broadcast clips of cultural events from across Maharashtra. The stage is expected to be 9,000 square feet in size and 30 feet in height.
“I am lucky to witness this memorable moment,” said Purshottam Barde, a veteran party worker from Solapur.
The swearing-in ceremony will bring the curtains down on more than a month of political uncertainty that hung over the state after the October 21 assembly elections threw up a hung House, with the BJP winning 105 seats, the Sena 56, the NCP 54 and the Congress 44. Independents and smaller parties have 29 seats.
On November 12, governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari clamped President’s Rule on Maharashtra after telling the Centre that no party was in a position to form government. By then, three parties – the BJP, Sena and NCP – had failed to cobble together a majority within the prescribed deadline.
After weeks of talks and hammering out a common programme, the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance appeared set to stake its claim last Friday. But the BJP dramatically upset their plans. At 5.47am on Saturday, President’s Rule was withdrawn, and a new government sworn in before 8am with Fadnavis as chief minister and Ajit Pawar as his deputy. That government proved all too short-lived.