Maharashtra equation: Lack of clarity on power split may be factor in Congress delay
Monday began with the possibility of a Shiv Sena-led government with support from the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress looking bright.
In Delhi, Union heavy industries minister and Sena MP Arvind Sawant resigned from his position, thereby fulfilling one of the NCP’s conditions for backing a Sena-led administration.
In Delhi and Mumbai, top leaders of the three parties got into huddles to discuss modalities of government formation and talks swirled of possible CM faces: Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray or senior leader Eknath Shinde.
As Sawant met reporters in Delhi, his party boss Uddhav Thackeray drove down to the Taj Lands End Hotel in Bandra to meet NCP chief Sharad Pawar to hammer out the finer details of government formation.
By that time, the Congress had already held one round of crucial meetings, and it was widely believed that the party was leaning towards backing a Sena-led formation. One possible formula that was being considered, one senior Congress leader told HT, was that the Sena would have the CM candidate in the form of either Thackeray or Eknath Shinde. The deputy chief minister candidate would be from the NCP, and a senior party leader confirmed that their leading candidate was Pawar’s nephew and former state minister Ajit Pawar.
In the afternoon, Gandhi had a conversation over the phone with Uddhav Thackeray, leaders from both parties confirmed. Thackeray was keen that the Congress join the government, said the aforementioned leaders, but Gandhi remained non-committal.
However, as the second round of meetings began in Delhi in the afternoon — with Mallikarjun Kharge, Ahmed Patel, Ashok Chavan and Ashok Gehlot in attendance -- it became clear that the Congress president had not made up her mind.
“What is in the common minimum programme? What will be this government’s agenda?” she reportedly asked leaders who were keen on backing the Sena, according to a senior leader aware of the developments.
A second senior Congress leader said that a majority of leaders from the state were in favour of supporting the Sena. Some of them were wary that if President’s Rule is imposed in the state, then some of their legislators may jump ship. But the central leadership was divided over getting on board with a one-time rival with a hard-line Hindutva stance, added the second leader.
During the meeting, Gandhi and Pawar spoke over the phone and it was decided that Kharge and Patel will meet Pawar in Mumbai on Tuesday to hammer out the contours of the plan. “The Congress may ask for the Speaker’s position,” this leader said. As evening fell, it became clear that the Congress was not yet ready to extend support to the Sena, and that it would seek more time to hold negotiations and seek clarity. The party released a statement saying Gandhi had spoken to Pawar for further discussions. “No letter of support has been sent yet,” Congress leader KC Venugopal confirmed.
(With HTC inputs)