In an attempt to put up a united face after the Ajit Pawar-led split in the NCP, party chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray met NCP legislators together on Sunday.
During the two-hour meeting at the Renaissance hotel in Andheri (East) where the MLAs have been sequestered, both leaders told the NCP legislators that they had no reason to be worried and that the Sena-NCP alliance was sustainable and long-lasting.
Legislators told The Indian Express that Sharad Pawar also asked if the MLAs felt pressured or were at the hotel under duress. Many of them are said to have replied that they had been contacted by the Ajit Pawar camp.
The NCP has claimed that 48 of its 56 MLAs were present during the interaction. Sharad Pawar was the first to arrive at the hotel and he subsequently held talks with them.
“He asked whether the MLAs were fine and whether they were under any duress or pressure. Some of them said that they had been contacted by members of the Ajit Pawar camp to switch over. The MLAs, however, said that their loyalties were with Sharad Pawar and they would stay with him,” an insider who was privy to the meeting said.
After Uddhav arrived, the two leaders had a detailed discussion before meeting the legislators together. The two leaders also had an extended personal chat with NCP leader Dhananjay Munde, a close associate of Ajit Pawar. It was at Munde’s residence that the rebel MLAs had gathered on Saturday morning ahead of the swearing-in of Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister and Ajit Pawar as Deputy Chief Minister.
Munde had remained incommunicado to Sharad Pawar. His phone had remained switched off after the swearing-in ceremony, and no NCP leader was able to reach him until his appearance at the legislators’ meeting on Saturday evening.
Subsequently, the two leaders held a joint meeting with all the NCP legislators where Uddhav assured them that the NCP-Sena relationship was not for short term gains but was an alliance for the future. Yuva Sena chief and Worli MLA Aaditya Thackeray was also present.
“Don’t think that this relationship is limited to five years. This pact is for long term. We have the majority and be rest assured that the ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ will form the government in the state,” Uddhav told the MLAs.
Interestingly, the Shiv Sena as well as NCP leaders and workers kept a combined vigil around the hotel premises to ensure that any attempts to poach MLAs were stalled.
NCP MLA Jitendra Awhad complained about the presence of policemen in plainclothes on the hotel premises and accosted a few of them. “I do not understand the need for deployment of plainclothes policemen in the hotel when the political situation in the state is volatile. This is a classic case of intimidation by the government,” Awhad said.
Meanwhile, Congress leaders also complained that their legislators were being approached. The 44 Congress MLAs are presently at the Marriott near the international airport.
Former CM Ashok Chavan said attempts were being made to poach Congress MLAs. “There are attempts being made to contact our MLAs. We have had instances of BJP members booking rooms in the hotel and trying to get in touch with our MLAs,” he said, adding that he was sure the legislators would stay united despite all such attempts.
Meanwhile, the Congress legislators were also given a briefing on the impact of defection on membership of the Legislature Assembly. The MLAs were given a detailed briefing on how legislators in Karnataka lost their membership when they defected and how they had to approach the SC to be eligible to fight elections again. “They were also reminded of the pact between the Congress-NCP and Shiv Sena to field a combined candidate against any member who defects,” a source said.
BJP, Ajit shying away from floor test: Congress
New Delhi: The Congress thanked the Supreme Court for taking up a joint petition of Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena on Sunday “considering the urgency” of the matter. “The BJP and Ajit Pawar are shying away and running away from proving majority on the floor of the House, while the alliance of the three parties constituted in the interest of Maharashtra has full majority… it will be proved that the BJP in a surreptitious midnight operation… constituted an illegitimate government, which will fall in a floor test,” Congress communication department head Randeep Surjewala said. —ENS