When Devendra Fadnavis, deserted by Ajit Pawar and outplayed by Sharad Pawar, declared Tuesday that he would hand his resignation letter to the Governor, the BJP brass in Delhi was watching it live on television. A few hours earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union Home Minister Amit Shah and BJP working president J P Nadda had held a meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Parliament House.
Sources said the “situation was such” that the leaders, who met after the Supreme Court direction for a floor test, had to take a decision asking Fadnavis to resign. Senior BJP leaders admitted they were not expecting this, but “anything is possible”.
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Why this hurts the BJP more
For the BJP, the loss of Maharashtra is its second misadventure in 18 months. But this will hurt the party brass more than the fall of the earlier Karnataka government because this time the offices of the President and PM were dragged in to impose President’s Rule and to revoke it later.
For the top brass, it is not just the loss of power in a big state and the country’s financial capital, but a second misadventure within 18 months. Unlike Karnataka, where BJP Chief Minister B S Yedyiurappa had to resign within three days after taking oath for not having the numbers, the Maharashtra “misadventure” had dragged in the offices of the President and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister’s special powers under Rule 12 of Transaction of Business were used to revoke President’s Rule in Maharashtra to pave the way for the morning oath-taking ceremony of Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar.
Some BJP leaders pointed out that there could have been “over-confidence” in the party. Until last Thursday, when Uddhav Thackeray’s Sena advanced its discussions with the NCP and Congress, the BJP leadership was “certain that the Sena could not break its ties with its ideological brother”. The party leaders interpreted Sena’s public outbursts and its negotiations with rivals as “attempts to regain the lost glory of Matoshree (the Thackeray residence) and a visit from the BJP top leadership to Matoshree could break the stalemate”. The Sena and BJP, party leaders believed, were ideologically intertwined, and that it would be impossible for the Sena to break its ties with the BJP and go ahead with any other political group.
At least three senior party leaders admitted that what happened to the party in Maharashtra was not just a loss of face, but had also “dented credibility, damaged the image of the Prime Minister and given the impression of BJP being a power-grabbing party”.
What was projected as a “masterstroke” by BJP strategists three days ago is now a scar. “Karnataka could be passed as an aberration. In Maharashtra, there was sympathy for the BJP after the Shiv Sena broke the alliance and hobnobbed with our rivals. Whatever happened since Saturday completely reversed it. The party has turned out to be the biggest loser,” a BJP MP said.
The BJP’s national leadership initially projected party activities in Maharashtra ever since the October 24 election results as the responsibility of the state unit, namely Fadnavis. But as Shiv Sena’s talks with NCP and the Congress made headway, the top leadership stepped in. Bhupender Yadav, Shah’s trusted lieutenant and general secretary in-charge of elections in Maharashtra, rushed to Mumbai. Yadav had been in touch with Ajit Pawar since November 10, the day when the BJP informed Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari that it would not be able to form the government in the state.
On Tuesday, even after Fadnavis resigned, the BJP’s top leadership maintained “it’s not the end of the story” in Maharashtra. “What happened in Maharashtra is clear. Devendra Fadnavis had the mandate but still resigned. Because its mandate was along with the Shiv Sena,” said a top party leader. “But it’s not the end of the story. We should wait and see,” the leader said.
In Mumbai, a senior BJP functionary said: “On Saturday, Ajit Pawar walked in with a list, facilitating formation of a government led by Devendra Fadnavis. On Tuesday, Ajit Pawar walked away with the list, bringing down the government.”
While conceding that BJP with 105 MLAs was in minority, sources in the party said “both central and state leaderships planned the formation of the government, drawing strength from the Ajit Pawar-led group of MLAs.” He had pledged loyalty of at least 28-30 MLAs, and the independents and smaller parties were to help them get past the half-way mark in the House of 288.
From the very beginning, the BJP, sources said, had been banking on “technicalities” to win the trust vote. The plan was to convene a three-day assembly session. The first day would have been devoted to oath being administered to the MLAs by the Pro-tem Speaker. Sources said hopes were being pinned on the appointment of the Speaker, secret ballot and a voice vote.
All those hopes were dashed Tuesday when the Supreme Court ruled out secret ballot and ordered live telecast of a floor test. Ajit Pawar’s resignation sealed the fate of the Fadnavis government.
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