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Uddhav rises, Fadnavis falls as Ajit backs out

By HT Correspondents, Mumbai
PUBLISHED ON NOV 27, 2019 01:38 AM IST

Three days after Devendra Fadnavis took oath as the chief minister of Maharashtra, even as the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress combine was readying to announce Uddhav Thackeray as their candidate for the top post, the table’s turned on Tuesday.

Thackeray will be sworn in as the chief minister on November 28 at Shivaji Park, the ground where his father, the late Bal Thackeray, founded the Shiv Sena in 1966.

On a day of frantic developments, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Ajit Pawar government crumpled after the Supreme Court (SC) ordered a trust vote to be held through an open ballot on the floor of the state Assembly by 5pm on Wednesday.

Ajit Pawar, isolated by his uncle and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, resigned as deputy chief minister by 11.30am on Tuesday, followed by Fadnavis — who was relying on NCP MLAs to prove his government’s majority during the floor test — announcing that he was stepping down too.

With both CM and his deputy quitting, the three-party alliance of Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress gathered their legislators at a five-star hotel in Bandra-Kurla Complex (BKC) and officially announced the formation of Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi, with Uddhav Thackeray as their chief ministerial candidate. NCP state unit chief Jayant Patil proposed Thackeray’s name for the post and the proposal was backed by Congress’s Balasaheb Thorat, who was elected the party’s group leader earlier on Tuesday. Both Patil and Thorat are tipped to be deputy chief ministers in the new government, but the alliance has not yet announced its power-sharing pact.

“I accept the responsibility given by all of you. I’m not alone, but you all are CMs with me. What has happened today is the actual democracy,” Thackeray said, in his brief speech at the meeting, adding that while “those who were friends for 30 years, did not trust us. But those against whom we fought for 30 years have trusted me”.

Earlier, the BJP made it clear that it decided not to face the floor test after Ajit backed out.

“After the Supreme Court order, Ajit Pawar met me and said that for some reason he can’t stay in this alliance. I have to resign as he has resigned… we do not have majority,” said Fadnavis, addressing a press conference at the state guest house, Sahyadri.

“We had decided from Day 1 that we will not engage in horse-trading. We decided to form the government because we thought that the entire NCP group will back us,” said Fadnavis, before heading to Raj Bhavan and handing over his resignation to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari.

Meanwhile, the NCP is yet to spell out the fate of Ajit Pawar, who called on Sharad Pawar late on Tuesday at the latter’s residence. NCP leaderssaid Ajit’s meetings with Pratibha Pawar, wife of Sharad Pawar; and Sadanand Sule, husband of Supriya Sule, were crucial in making the former change his mind. “He [Ajit Pawar] was under tremendous pressure from the family as well as party. For the past four days, senior NCP leaders continued meeting him to convince him to come back. But his meeting with Pratibhatai seems to have played a major role in convincing Ajit to change his decision. He respects her like his mother,” said a senior NCP leader, on condition of anonymity.

Meanwhile, the BJP’s official line, which was reflected in its letter to stake claim as well, was that the NCP was its coalition partner and all of NCP’s 54 legislators would support Fadnavis. But the fact that this wasn’t the case became clear soon after Sharad Pawar removed Ajit Pawar from the party’s legislature party chief’s post. Two senior BJP leaders, who did not wish to be named, said the deal with Pawar was that he would manage the support of around 27-30 lawmakers. But it was becoming increasingly clear that Sharad Pawar had managed to avoid a split in his party.

“It was a mistake,” the BJP leaders said. “First, to rely on Ajit Pawar and think he could get the better of Sharad Pawar. Second, to be sure of getting their Speaker elected through a secret ballot to sail through the trust vote.”

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