The BJP, the single largest party with 105 MLAs, requires the support of 40 more MLAs to get to a simple majority of 145 in the 288-member state Assembly.
While expressing confidence about retaining the Ajit Pawar-led NCP faction on their side, BJP insiders said the party has launched ‘Operation Lotus’, which is to be helmed by four senior leaders – Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil, Ganesh Naik, Babanrao Panchpute and Narayan Rane. All four leaders had joined the BJP from the Opposition camp – Vikhe-Patil and Rane from the Congress, Naik and Panchpute from the NCP. Party sources said their “cordial relations” with some members in their former parties and other smaller parties would be “useful” during the floor test.
On Saturday, while staking claim to form the government, Fadnavis had submitted a list of 105 BJP MLAs and Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar a list of 54 NCP MLAs. The BJP also claims the support of 14 Independent MLAs.
The BJP has also been asserting that there is no legal validity to Ajit Pawar’s removal as head of the NCP legislature party – on Saturday, 41 of the NCP’s 54 MLAs turned up for a party meeting where Ajit Pawar was removed as legislature party leader and Jayant Patil appointed in his place. On Saturday, Ajit Pawar and BJP leaders, including former minister Ashish Shelar, held meetings with legal and constitutional experts on the NCP leader’s removal from the post.
“BJP is of the view that Ajit Pawar’s appointment as the NCP’s legislative party leader was valid and the appointment of Jayant Patil in his place is invalid,” Shelar said.
Sources said the only way the BJP-Ajit Pawar government can escape the anti-defection law is by projecting the NCP as a whole unit and Ajit Pawar as the NCP legislature party leader.
The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution states that “a member of the house belonging to a political party shall be disqualified if he votes or abstains from voting in the house contrary to any directions issued by the political party to which he belongs or by any person or authority authorised by it in this behalf, without obtained prior permission of the party or the person authorised by it.”
Ajit Pawar’s public assertion on Sunday, of a “BJP-NCP alliance”, is being seen by many in the state BJP as being part of a strategy chalked out jointly with the BJP Central leadership.
“Our BJP-NCP alliance shall provide a stable government in Maharashtra for the next five years which will work sincerely for the welfare of the state and its people,” Ajit Pawar had tweeted.
I am in the NCP and shall always be in the NCP and @PawarSpeaks Saheb is our leader.
Our BJP-NCP alliance shall provide a stable Government in Maharashtra for the next five years which will work sincerely for the welfare of the State and its people.
— Ajit Pawar (@AjitPawarSpeaks) November 24, 2019
Party sources indicated that in order to avoid last-minute legal and constitutional complications, the BJP was also considering reaching out to select MLAs across parties to persuade them to remain absent on the day of the trust vote.
“Bringing down the half-way mark from 145 – that is also a strategy that is under consideration. In 2014, the BJP won the trust vote with 122 MLAs. The NCP, with 41 MLAs, remained absent. As a result, the half-way mark required was just 128 MLAs. We got support from six to seven Independent MLAs,” said a BJP source, who is familiar with discussions in the party.
On Sunday, at a meeting of its newly elected MLAs at the party office in Dadar in Mumbai, where the party adopted a unanimous resolution to express their gratitude to the Ajit Pawar-led NCP group for supporting the BJP to form the government, party leaders expressed their optimism about getting the required numbers.
“There is no ambiguity about the BJP passing the vote of confidence on the floor of the House,” state BJP president Chandrakant Patil.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, Shelar said, “From the court’s orders it is evident that we don’t have to take the floor test immediately. We are confident of getting the support of more than 170 members.”
A senior BJP functionary, who is also a member of the core team, said, “The BJP has 105 members. We are confident of getting the support of at least 28 to 30 members loyal to the Ajit Pawar group. Then there are 15 Independents, including nine BJP rebels, who have agreed to stand with us.”
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“There are a total of 30 Independents and members of smaller parties. Apart from me, there are several Independent MLAs who are keen on supporting a BJP-led government,” said Independent MLA Ravi Rana.
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