Uncertainty over government formation in Maharashtra continued on Wednesday, a day after President’s Rule was imposed with political parties resorting to brinkmanship. After the Congress and the NCP indicated that they were open to the idea of joining hands with the Shiv Sena to form a non-BJP government, the first round of negotiations between the parties got off to a rocky start.
On Tuesday, the Congress and the NCP, which had fought the Assembly elections as an alliance, had projected a united face, coming out with a joint statement stating that the two parties would first mutually draw up a common minimum programme (CMP) which the Shiv Sena will have to agree and sign off on if the three parties were to come together. But the political events that unfolded on Wednesday pointed to a trust gap and fissures between the two allies, raising Shiv Sena’s anxiety further.
On Wednesday afternoon, senior Maharashtra Congress leaders, including state party president Balasaheb Thorat, former Chief Minister Ashok Chavan and former party president Manikrao Thakre, were involved in talks with Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray without the NCP being a part of the meeting. This was Thackeray’s first formal interaction with state Congress leaders post the Maharashtra Assembly poll results.
Earlier on November 11, Thackeray had telephoned Congress president Sonia Gandhi, seeking her party’s support to a government backed by the Shiv Sena. Airing his nervousness over the pace of talks, Thackeray reportedly asked the Congress delegation how long it would take before the party takes a decision on whether it can support his party’s bid to form a government in the state. According to information, he also tried to understand the decision-making process in the Congress. The Congress, on the other hand, has sought a clarification from Thackeray on issues where the two parties have diametrically opposite viewpoints, including the proposal to offer five per cent reservation to Muslims in education and the demand for the Bharat Ratna to Veer Savarkar among others.
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But sources said that the two sides also held preliminary talks regarding the likely power-sharing arrangement. The Congress, which won fewer seats than the Shiv Sena and the NCP in the Assembly poll, has started pushing for equitable power sharing between the three sides. In another indicator that both the Congress and the Shiv Sena continue to remain wary of the NCP, which had offered unconditional outside support to the BJP in 2014, sources said that both the parties are reluctant to offer the Assembly Speaker’s position to Pawar’s party.
On his way out from the meeting, Thackeray, however, projected a picture that everything was going well between the three parties. “Talks are on in the right direction and a decision will be announced at an appropriate time,” he told the media. Thorat, meanwhile, termed the meeting with Thackeray as a courtesy call. “Our meeting with Uddhav Thackeray was a courtesy call. The fact that we are meeting is itself a positive development,” he said.
Earlier in the day, Pawar had called a meeting of newly elected legislators, assuring them the President’s Rule will not hamper government formation. He said further that would not plunge into mid-term elections and that a new government would be in place soon.
In the evening, it was NCP’s turn to resort to brinkmanship, with Pawar’s nephew and legislative party leader Ajit Pawar initially announcing that the first coordination meeting, which was to take place between the two allies for evolving a common minimum programme (CMP) to hold further negotiations with the Shiv Sena, had been postponed at the last minute. Ajit, who appeared visibly upset, had even indicated that he was leaving for Baramati and that no new date for the meeting had been fixed, which intensified speculations.
“The meeting between our two parties was supposed to take place at 7.30 pm. We have, however, received a call from the NCP stating that the meeting has been called off today. We will hopefully meet on Thursday,” said Thorat.
Pawar later clarified that his nephew was in Mumbai and that he would be attending the Congress-NCP meeting. In fact, the meeting between the two parties eventually took place on Wednesday itself. Sources said that the NCP was upset with the Congress for holding independent talks with the Shiv Sena.
Earlier on Tuesday, during a meeting involving Pawar and senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, K C Venugopal, and Mallikarjun Kharge among others, sources confirmed that the Congress camp has questioned NCP’s move to approach the Governor for extension of time for indicating willingness to form a government, which had facilitated the imposition of President’s rule.
Raising the issue during Tuesday’s meeting, Patel had sought to know why the Congress was not consulted before approaching the Governor.
Earlier in the day, both the Congress and the NCP had independently announced members who would be a part of the coordination between them for working on the CMP.