BJP national president Amit Shah put on the job his trusted lieutenant Bhupender Yadav, the party general secretary who was in-charge of elections in Maharashtra. According to sources, it was the bitterness with the Shiv Sena that drove the party to reach out to Ajit.
Even as NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Congress leaders held protracted talks, going around in circles, the BJP operated quietly. It was after the three announced on Friday afternoon that they were close to a deal that Shah rushed Yadav, who had been shuttling between Mumbai and Delhi, for the final round of negotiations.
BJP sources said Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit had already written to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari by then saying they were ready to form the government. Ajit then met Koshyari personally to verify the letter sent by him. On 7 pm, Yadav reached Mumbai and met Fadnavis first and later Ajit, sealing the deal.
On hindsight, senior BJP leaders had dropped hints, maintaining till Friday evening that the BJP would “100 per cent” form the government in Maharashtra.
Party sources said the BJP began exploring the alternatives available to it soon after informing the Governor on November 10 that, without the Sena supporting it, it didn’t have the numbers to form a government. That was the first time Yadav came to Mumbai. “After the fallout, we received daily feelers from a faction within the NCP,” a BJP leader said.
On the face of it, the BJP kept its options open with the Sena till last week. According to a source, Shah’s instruction to the Maharashtra leadership was to “let them (Thackeray, Pawar and Congress) play their game”, even as he kept his distance — the apparent disinterest even drawing comment.
About their offer to Ajit, a BJP leader said, “Everyone knew that a stable government would be possible only with BJP. Why should Ajit Pawar be part of a hobbled government with no certainty of longevity when he could very well get the same thing in a stable government?” A meeting was also organised between Ajit and Shah to reassure that the move had the highest backing within the BJP.
The tension between Ajit and NCP chief Sharad Pawar came in handy for the BJP. The rift had been exacerbated by the deal worked out by Pawar Senior with the Congress and Sena, agreeing to a Sena CM for full five years. Ajit wanted the NCP to have the post for at least half the term. Said a close aide of Ajit, “He feels he was repeatedly denied a high post in the party. The NCP could have easily bargained for two-and-a-half years.”
On the Sena, sources said the way it had tried to twist its hand had made the BJP determined not to let Matoshree dictate terms.
For a while, the BJP backed on the Sena not pushing matters to the brink, and the Congress not taking the plunge to join hands with it. But when the two seemed to have overcome that hurdle, the BJP moved in for the kill. What aided their gambit was that by that time, Ajit had been elected legislative party leader of the NCP, giving him a hold over its MLAs.
Incidentally, with Ajit in position, the NCP had on November 12 curiously conveyed to the Governor that it did not have the numbers to form the government. This came just in time for the Governor to send a report to the Centre, before Prime Minister Narendra Modi headed out for the BRICS Summit in Brazil, putting President’s rule in motion.
Left holding nothing, Congress leaders talked about their initial doubts over the NCP, about Sharad Pawar’s meeting with Modi, and about Ajit going incommunicado during talks. “He was again missing a day before the talks shifted to Delhi,” a Congress leader rued.