When the citizens of Maharashtra retired for the night late Friday, the news channels had announced that Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray was most likely to be sworn in as the chief minister of the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine. But by the time they woke up on Saturday morning, there was a huge surprise waiting for all.
In a dramatic move that shocked even the most well-informed and cynical political pundits watching the political drama in Maharashtra, Devendra Fadnavis of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was sworn in as the Chief Minister early on Saturday, with Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) as Deputy CM. The swearing-in ceremony took place at 8 a.m, whereas President's Rule over Maharashtra was revoked a few hours back, at around 6 a.m.
As all hell broke loose with the three political parties going into a huddle to decide their next course of action, NCP supremo Sharad Pawar took to Twitter distancing himself from his nephew Ajit Pawar, who is also the party's legislative leader. Pawar called his nephew's actions his own, and not of that of the party.
Later in a press conference jointly with the Shiv Sena, Pawar said that around 10-11 MLAs of the NCP had gone with his nephew to the BJP. Pawar also accused his nephew of stealing the letters of support and providing to the Governor. The letters of support from the party MLAs were for the Shiv Sena-NCP and were in the possession of Ajit Pawar as their leader, which was misused, claimed the senior Pawar.
To support his claim, Pawar also paraded three 'rebel' MLAs who confirmed that they had gone to the governor's residence Raj Bhavan, after receiving a call from Ajit Pawar. But on realising what happened, they had gone back to report and express their support to Sharad Pawar.
Action Against Ajit Pawar?
But despite some strong words coming from Pawar against his nephew, the strongman of Maharashtra politics stopped short of sacking him from the party. Pawar said that the decision to take disciplinary action against the 'rebel' will be taken after the party MLAs are consulted in their meeting later on Saturday.
Meanwhile earlier in the day, Supriya Sule, Sharad's daughter and current member of parliament from Baramati had put a WhatsApp status with the words 'Party and Family Split', indicating that all is not well within the party and the top political family in the state.
But the question still remains - how many MLAs of the NCP are actually supporting the BJP and Devendra Fadnavis' new government? The 288-member assembly, requires a majority of 145 members to form the government. The BJP has 105 members, with the NCP having 54 and the Congress 44. The BJP would need atleast 40 of these members to form the government.
Fadnavis had earlier claimed that the party already has support of several independents which would reduce their dependence on any of the other parties to meet the magic figure.
According to Girish Mahajan, former water resources minister in the first Fadnavis cabinet, all NCP MLAs are supporting the BJP.
After his swearing-in, Fadnavis thanked Ajit Pawar for taking the step to join the BJP in forming the government. He further accused the Shiv Sena of betraying the peoples' mandate, stating that it was because of their disagreement that Maharashtra underwent President's Rule, something that does not befit a state of its stature.
His comments post becoming CM can be seen here.
While an NCP meeting of legislative members is scheduled at 4:30 P.M., a floor test is likely to be held by the new government on November 30.
But there are also doubts being raised about Sharad Pawar's sincerity in claiming that he knew nothing about his nephew's early morning coup in favour of the BJP. On November 20, Pawar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which he claimed was to discuss the problems faced by farmers in the state.
This visit also raised eyebrows as it came two days after Modi speech in the Rajya Sabha praised Pawar's NCP and Odisha's BJD for adhering to parliamentary norms and raising issues without rushing to the well of the house.
How The BJP-Shiv Sena's Marriage Crumbled
The Sena and BJP fought the elections together as allies, but the Sena later withdrew from the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) citing differences with the BJP over a formula where the position of Chief Minister would be shared between the two parties. This was cemented when Arvind Sawant, the Sena MP from Mumbai South and Minister for Heavy Industries in the Modi-led cabinet, resigned from his post on November 11.
After the BJP and the Sena parted ways, the latter then looked towards the Congress and NCP to form the government. When no party could put forward the 145 members in the assembly, the state saw the imposition of President's Rule on November 12.
Uddhav 'Almost CM'
These events were preceded by the tripartite talks among the NCP, the Congress and the Shiv Sena on Friday evening, who had agreed on Uddhav Thackeray, leader of the Shiv Sena, to lead the alliance as Chief Minister. These talks were held in Mumbai's Nehru Science Centre, with Sharad Pawar commenting that Thackeray would be the CM as a unanimous candidate.
Both the NCP and Congress had given in-principle approval to support the Shiv Sena under Thackeray's leadership. Although there were a few issues to be ironed out, this alliance was thought to be soundly in place. There was an agreement of the Shiv Sena holding the CM position for five years, along with deputy CMs from both the NCP and Congress. Portfolio allocations were scheduled for Saturday, with a plan to stake claim to form the government by Saturday evening or by Sunday.
This is the first time a Thackeray family member has ever been seen to be in the reckoning to lead the state government. The tradition of not fighting elections was broken when Uddhav Thackeray's elder son Aadityaa Thackeray fought from Mumbai's Worli assembly seat and won by a huge margin.