The month-long political uncertainty engulfing the western Indian state of Maharashtra over government formation ended dramatically early on Saturday when leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Devendra Fadnavis was sworn-in as chief minister for the second term.
Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), who secretly extended his support to Fadnavis on Friday night, took oath as his deputy.
BJP’s rivals NCP, Shiv Sena and Congress were caught napping by this surprise move.
The ‘political coup’ initiated by his nephew Ajit stung NCP supremo Sharad Pawar into action. The wily leader immediately started the headcount and announced that only a handful of NCP legislators have joined the Ajit faction and BJP does not have the numbers to form the government.
To prevent legislators from crossing over to the Fadnavis-Ajit camp, NCP, Shiv Sena and Congress bussed them separately to luxury hotels or resorts where they will remain under tight security until the crucial House vote to prove majority on Nov 30.
In the meantime, the three parties moved a petition in the Supreme Court questioning the ‘partisan’ path Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari took on Saturday in getting the President’s rule revoked in the state and facilitating the government formation at short notice.
The top court met on Sunday and issued notices to the union government, Fadnavis and Ajit. It directed Solicitor General Tushar Mehta to produce letters of the governor on Monday for passing the orders.
After their swearing-in, Fadnavis and Ajit said they staked claim to form a government only to break the political impasse and give the people stable and good governance.
BJP, which had emerged as the winner in the recent assembly elections with 105 seats, had told the governor that it did not have the numbers to prove the majority. Since then, the saffron party was silently watching the squabbles going on among rival parties as they struggled for weeks to form a government.
Reports say Ajit sent his letter of support to Fadnavis on Friday night after an open fight with a top Congress leader over the Speaker’s post that he wanted for NCP.
He was angry and frustrated over the political impasse and Congress Party flexing its political muscle.
He did not want to work under Shiv Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray whom Pawar was on Friday projecting as Maharashtra’s future chief minister.
He also suspected that his 79-year-old uncle was ignoring him and trying to install his daughter Supriya Sule as NCP’s next leader.
Uddhav, who was shaken by the 8am swearing-in at the governor’s official residence, called it BJP’s surgical strike on Maharashtra voters.
The Congress alleged that Ajit was forced to ditch NCP after BJP threatened to jail him over a corruption case. It called the state governor a “hit man” working for the union government.
As parties dilly-dally over government formation, people who gave a clear mandate for the BJP-Sena alliance feel cheated. Both parties are now aligned with parties they did not vote for.
Many believe the lust for power and the obsession for chief minister’s post blinded Shiv Sena to ditch BJP after Oct 24 election results proved that the saffron party did not have the majority to form a government on its own.
Voters are tired of watching the parties’ power tussle in the state. They want a responsible government in place as many districts face drought.