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Sunday, Dec 08, 2019

Shiv Sena can’t get deal over the line, Governor invites NCP

The NCP said it was open to backing the Sena, with some conditions. But the Congress — after a series of meetings of senior leaders with party chief Sonia Gandhi — said it needed more time to decide whether it would back its one-time bitter rival.

india Updated: Nov 12, 2019 02:35 IST
Surendra Gangan and Anisha Dutta
Surendra Gangan and Anisha Dutta
Hindustan Times, Mumbai/New Delhi
Shiv Sena leaders Aaditya Thackeray and Eknath Shinde along with party leaders at a press conference following their meeting with Maharashtra governor BS Koshyari in Mumbai on Monday.
Shiv Sena leaders Aaditya Thackeray and Eknath Shinde along with party leaders at a press conference following their meeting with Maharashtra governor BS Koshyari in Mumbai on Monday.(PTI Photo )
         

Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari invited the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) to form the government on Monday evening and gave it 24 hours to cobble together a majority after the Shiv Sena failed to secure enough numbers within the deadline prescribed by him, prolonging the fortnight-long political impasse in the state.

The Sena, which has 56 legislators in the 288-member legislative assembly, was invited by the governor on Sunday evening, and it withdrew from the Union Cabinet a day later. The regional outfit needed the support of both the NCP (54) and the Congress (44) to cross the majority mark of 145.

The NCP said it was open to backing the Sena, with some conditions. But the Congress — after a series of meetings of senior leaders with party chief Sonia Gandhi — said it needed more time to decide whether it would back its one-time bitter rival.

Shortly afterwards, the Raj Bhavan released a statement saying the Sena had failed in its bid to form the government.

“A delegation of leaders of the Shiv Sena met the governor and expressed their willingness to form the government. However, they could not support the requested letter of support,” the statement read.

Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray said he had sought 48 additional hours to secure the letters of support but his request was rejected by the governor.

“We told the governor that we are willing to form the government. We asked for at least two days’ time but we were not given the time,” he said after leaving Raj Bhavan.

“Both the parties, Congress and NCP, are speaking to us. MLAs are speaking to us.”

This capped a day of tense negotiations and intense speculation about the possibility of a Sena-led government. Since the morning, talks swirled of a deal in the works between the Sena, NCP and Congress. Two possible CM faces were discussed: Udhhav Thackeray and Eknath Shinde, while for deputy CM, Ajit Pawar and Jayant Patil were said to be the front runners.

When the meeting began at Gandhi’s residence, it was speculated that the party was only discussing whether to join the government or support it from the outside. Even as late as 7.20pm, when Aaditya Thackeray was driving to the Raj Bhavan, it was assumed that he had letters of support from the NCP and Congress, and would stake claim shortly. In a matter of a few minutes, however, it was clear that the Sena’s government formation plans were scuttled for now, with the Congress seeking more time to finalise its stance.

The ball is now in the court of the NCP, the third-largest party in the assembly, which has been given until 8.30pm on Tuesday to come up with the requisite support.

“We have been called by the governor. As per the letter given by the governor, we will hold discussions with Congress and see how a stable government can be provided,” NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik told reporters in Mumbai. The Congress is flying down senior leaders Ahmed Patel and Mallikarjun Kharge to Mumbai on Tuesday morning to take a final call after meeting NCP chief Sharad Pawar.

It was, however, not clear if the NCP would make efforts to lead the government or continue to urge the Congress to become a party of a Sena-led dispensation — either as a part of the alliance or from the outside.

The current impasse began soon after the October 24 assembly election results threw up a hung assembly with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as the single-largest party with 105 seats. But power-sharing talks between the BJP and its pre-poll ally, the Sena, stalled over the latter’s demand of an equal number of ministerial portfolios and sharing the chief minister’s position.

Koshyari invited the BJP to form the government on Saturday but a day later, the party ditched its bid after it became clear that the Sena would not budge from its demand.

The day began with the Sena withdrawing its representative in the Union Cabinet, heavy industries minister Arvind Sawant, and thereby fulfilling one of the conditions put forth by the NCP for its support.

“Trust means a lot for the Thackeray family; once they give their word they always honour it. And, hence, we cannot go ahead with the alliance. It is my moral duty to resign,” said Sawant, repeating Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray’s allegation that the BJP reneged on its promise of “50:50” power sharing formula.

With hours to go before the governor’s deadline of 7.30pm for the Sena, senior Congress leaders met at Gandhi’s residence in New Delhi to decide whether to back the Sena. Gandhi spoke to Thackeray and Pawar on separate occasions.

A senior Sena leader said Thackeray was keen that the Congress join the government and not provide outside support, to ensure stability of the coalition regime. A number of Congress legislators from Maharashtra were also keen on backing the Sena, said a senior leader aware of the developments.

But Gandhi was not convinced by the arguments, said a second senior leader adding that she demanded to know details of the proposed coalition. “What is in the Common Minimum Programme? What will be this government’s agenda?” she reportedly asked others, according to the second leader.

The party then decided to have more consultations before firming up its position. “The Congress president has spoken to Sharad Pawarji. The party will have further discussion with NCP,” read a statement released by the party on Monday evening. The NCP, too, decided to hold back on its support to the Sena and consult with its pre-poll partner before any decision.