There were hectic but discreet negotiations between the BJP’s top leadership and NCP’s Ajit Pawar over the past few days. For this, BJP national president Amit Shah had put on the job his most trusted lieutenant, Bhupender Yadav, who is the party general secretary and in-charge of elections in Maharashtra.
Even as the closed-room talks between NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and the Congress leaders were taking place, and there were revelations before the media by them, the BJP kept its cards close to its chest.
As the trio announced that their talks were close to a conclusion Friday afternoon, Shah rushed Yadav to Mumbai for the final rounds of talks. Yadav reached Mumbai 7 pm Friday and worked on the final deal with Devendra Fadnavis, said party sources.
In fact, every senior leader of the party had maintained till Friday evening that the BJP’s chances of forming the government in Maharashtra was “100 per cent”.
Although the BJP leadership had kept its options open with the Shiv Sena till last week, it began making efforts for alternative plans after the party informed Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari on November 10 about its inability to stake claim for forming the government. The party took the call after Shah had dashed off Yadav to Mumbai for the meeting of state BJP’s core committee.
“But Matoshree (residence of Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray) has turned really bitter,” said a source in the BJP. Shah, according to a source, told the BJP leadership in Maharashtra that the party should “let them (Thackeray, Pawar and Congress) play their game” while the BJP worked on its plans away from the glare. Shah, who had not visibly intervened in the developments in Maharashtra after the Assembly election results came out on October 24, started unravelling his plans after November 10.
The BJP leadership, subsequently, watched the events unfold between Congress-NCP and Sena over the next fortnight.
Sources said the BJP had taken a call that it was not going to let ‘Matoshree’ or ‘Sena Pramukh’ dictate terms to it. As for giving them a facesaver to Sena for returning back to the NDA fold, the BJP leadership had also taken a call that a full-five year term was “non-negotiable” for the party while Sena insisted for at least 2.5 years (under 50:50 formula) of chief ministership for it.
The BJP leadership, initially, appeared confident that either Congress will back out or Sena will blink from its posturing to avoid an ideological U-turn. Sena, however, appeared increasingly determined as NCP chief Sharad Pawar worked on the Congress through state Congress leaders to persuade Congress president Sonia Gandhi for a go-ahead.
As the political negotiations between Sena-NCP-Congress took a serious turn, the BJP leadership is learnt to have changed tack. Shah and acting chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, BJP sources reveal, got in touch with Ajit Pawar who had duly been elected the legislature party leader of NCP.
With events on Friday appearing headed for the final round for Sena-NCP-Congress alliance, the BJP decided to stop the wait- and-watch game while hoping the alliance would crumble on its own. Shah once again dashed Bhupender Yadav to Mumbai on late Friday afternoon. While the Sena-NCP-Congress alliance leaders agreed late Friday evening to meet again on Saturday after their “positive” meeting in the day, the BJP took a call and pulled the plug before the situation went out of its hands.
The President’s rule was revoked early morning after which Fadnavis and Pawar were sworn in as CM and Deputy CM in a simple ceremony at Raj Bhavan early Saturday morning, leaving the Congress leadership shocked and humiliated, and “Matoshree” clueless.
The swift developments, however, put the spotlight on Ajit Pawar who was elected NCP floor leader on October 30. When the BJP decided not to stake claim and Governor Koshyari had also invited NCP after Sena could not show the numbers by November 11 evening. The NCP had curiously communicated Governor Koshyari before noon on November 12 that it too did not have numbers — just in time for the Governor to send a report to the Centre where the Prime Minister convened an emergency Cabinet for recommending President’s rule before leaving for BRICS summit in Brazil. The communication to governor, too, came from NCP floor leader Ajit Pawar. It was then the die was cast.
Senior Congress leaders who were in talks with Thackeray and Sharad Pawar had expressed their concerns about the NCP’s moves — particularly about Sharad Pawar’s 40-minute long meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier week. “We were wondering what Ajit Pawar was doing when he went incommunicado for hours during our talks. He was again missing a day before the talks shifted to New Delhi,” said a Congress leader.
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On Saturday morning, after Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar took the oath of office, sending shock waves in the entire political circle, a senior BJP leader familiar with the developments said the deal was struck between the BJP leadership and Ajit Pawar, who is the leader of NCP legislative party in Maharashtra. “Ajit Pawar is the leader of the NCP legislative party and it is supporting us. We have 120 MLAs with Independents and NCP’s 54 makes it 174. We are comfortable in the 288-member assembly,”said the leader.
When asked about support from Sharad Pawar, the leader reiterated that Ajit Pawar is the legislative party leader.