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Monday, Nov 18, 2019

Join govt now, will discuss CM post later: BJP to Sena in back-channel talks

The saffron allies, BJP and Sena, have been locked in a tussle over a power-sharing pact since the results of the Assembly elections were announced on October 24. While BJP is the single-largest party with 105 seats, Sena has 56 seats in the 288-member Assembly.

mumbai Updated: Nov 07, 2019 09:11 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
A senior BJP leader, on condition of anonymity, said back-channel talks that have begun between the allies may resolve the logjam.
A senior BJP leader, on condition of anonymity, said back-channel talks that have begun between the allies may resolve the logjam.(Aalok Soni/ HT FILE Photo)
         

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) made its first concrete move on Wednesday to end the deadlock with ally Shiv Sena over government formation, with the tenure of the outgoing Maharashtra government ending on Saturday. BJP announced that its leaders would meet Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on Thursday.

The party is hoping that by the time its state unit chief, Chandrakant Patil, and state finance minister, Sudhir Mungantiwar, meet Koshyari, talks with Sena would have begun.

Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray has called for a meeting of the party’s MLAs on Thursday to discuss the way forward.

The saffron allies, BJP and Sena, have been locked in a tussle over a power-sharing pact since the results of the Assembly elections were announced on October 24. While BJP is the single-largest party with 105 seats, Sena has 56 seats in the 288-member Assembly. The standoff has been over sharing the chief minister’s post, with Sena demanding an equal division of the top post’s tenure and BJP rejecting the proposal.

A senior BJP leader, on condition of anonymity, said back-channel talks that have begun between the allies may resolve the logjam. Back-channel talks between Sena and BJP are being held through two mediators, one close to each camp. “We have asked them to join the government now as we have a clear mandate for the alliance. Their dem-and for splitting CM’s post can be discussed in six-seven months, with the Delhi leadership. Currently, our top brass is not willing to concede it,” said the leader.

The leader said BJP had also conveyed to Sena that they would consider the demand for equal splitting of ministerial berths, including certain important portfolios, if the party would give up its insistence on the CM post, for now.

“The BJP will not stake claim without clear majority, so if Sena does not respond we will let them stake claim or there will be President’s Rule,” said the leader.

“Both of us cannot afford President’s Rule right now. It will be embarrassing if the Governor has to impose President’s Rule even after people giving us a clear mandate,” said another senior BJP leader.

Significantly, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Wednesday ruled out the possibility of a Sena-NCP-Congress combine to form the government.

Pawar said BJP, Sena should form the government as they have the mandate and his party will play the role of a “responsible Opposition”.

Although Pawar publicly ruled out any alternative possibility, leaders from Congress and NCP said the two parties are keeping their plan for an alternative government ready in case Thackeray chooses not to join hands with the BJP. They are expecting some indication on Thackeray’s move after the party meeting on Thursday.

The BJP-Sena’s tally of 161 seats is way ahead of the simple majority mark of 145 in the Maharashtra Assembly.

“In the polls, the mandate was for BJP, Sena, Republican Party of India and other smaller parties. We want to respect this mandate and all our future steps will be to ensure a saffron alliance government is formed,” said Mungantiwar, after a meeting of BJP’s ministers with chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at his residence, Varsha, at Malbar Hill in south Mumbai. “We will meet the governor tomorrow [Thursday] to apprise him of our plans to form the new government in the state,” he added.

Until late on Wednesday night, Sena officially continued to claim that they would not budge from its claim.

Sena leader Sanjay Raut continued to take an aggressive stance against the BJP and said that it, being the single largest party, should stake claim to form the government.

“The party that has 105 seats must go and stake claim… No proposals will be exchanged between us [Sena and BJP]. Whatever was decided must be implemented now. The chief minister’s post was decided before election,” Raut said, indicating that the party would not budge from its demand. Thackeray has convened a meeting of MLAs on Thursday afternoon and is expected to lay down the party’s stance on the ongoing power tussle between the two allies.

Earlier in the day, Pawar, who met Raut briefly, held a press conference and said NCP did not have the mandate or the numbers to form the government.

“The BJP-Sena alliance have been given the mandate to form the government and they should do so as soon as possible. The mandate for Congress-NCP is to play the role of an effective opposition,” said the NCP chief at a press conference in Mumbai.

Pawar, a four-time chief minister, also brushed aside speculation that the Sena could walk out of the NDA and form the government with help from NCP and Congress.

“This alliance (between the Sena and BJP) has been in existence for 25 years. How can they separate now…,” he said.

He also ruled out any possibility of him emerging as the next CM.

However, Pawar did say that he would keep tabs on how things pan out over the next three days, but refuted that he would be a prime mover in the current political scenario.

“I will be touring the state again from tomorrow. I am not even in Mumbai in the next three days.. if I had the numbers I would not be sitting here now,” he added.

Although Pawar has categorically said they have decided to sit in the Opposition, the back-channel developments in both Congress and NCP have reportedly gathered momentum to keep an alternative plan ready. Congress held a high-level meeting of leaders on Wednesday after a group of its MLAs openly expressesed their desire to back a Sena-led three-party government. The public posturing by its two legislators — MLA Yashomati Thakur and MP Hussain Dalwai who met Pawar — and Sanjay Raut respectively — is believably the part of the plan. Former CM Ashok Chavan said that the party leaders and even people of the state want to keep BJP out of the power. NCP leaders too claimed that the three-party government was a seriously considered option at the higher level.