Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis handed over his resignation to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, in sharp contrast to the quiet oath ceremony held at Raj Bhavan less than 80 hours earlier that had marked the beginning of his short-lived second term. Fadnavis put in his papers hours after the Supreme Court ordered a floor test in the legislative assembly. Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar who was sworn in as deputy chief minister had also tendered his resignation.
A thriller straight out of the playbook of guerrilla warfare was played out in Mumbai on November 23 when, contrary to expectations that Uddhav Thackeray would take up the chief minister’s post as Shiv Sena-Congress-NCP coalition talks were close to completion, the BJP’s Fadnavis was, at 8 am, sworn in as CM for the second time running, with the NCP’s Ajit Pawar as his deputy. Events unfolded at breathtaking speed post-midnight when Ajit Pawar decided to bolt the NCP stables.
Fadnavis said at a press conference that his deputy, Ajit Pawar had also stepped down - in fact, he blamed the fall of his government on Ajit's resignation, which he said had deprived it of a majority. The swearing of Fadnavis as chief minister had surprised many and the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress alliance decided to approach the Supreme Court against governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s decision to invite Fadnavis to form a government.
He said that the BJP had staked claim to form a government after Ajit Pawar decided to tie-up with BJP. “The government was formed as Ajit Pawar gave a letter of support of all 54 of his party MLAs,” said Fadnavis. Ajit Pawar resigned amid continuous efforts by the NCP leadership to bring him back to the party fold. “Ajit Pawar met me in the morning and said he cannot stay in the alliance and resigned. Because of his resignation, we do not have the majority. We had said from the first day that we will not indulge in horse trading. We decided to form the government because we thought that the entire NCP group will back us,’’ said Fadnavis.
The BJP had fought the Maharashtra polls in alliance with Sena but relations between the decades-old allies soured over sharing of chief minister’s post. The BJP emerged as the single largest party after the polls winning 105 seats. Sena won 56, while the NCP and the Congress got 54 and 44 seats each. “Clear majority was given to Mahayuti and BJP got maximum 105 seats. We contested with Shiv Sena, but this mandate was for BJP because BJP won 70 per cent seats out of all seats we contested,” Fadnavis said.
Prodded about the unlikely alliance with Ajit Pawar who he attacked, Fadnavis said Ajit Pawar had initiated the discussion with the BJP to extend support to a Fadnavis-led government. “The government was formed as Ajit Pawar gave a letter of support of all 54 of his party MLAs,” said Fadnavis. The BJP’s official line, which was reflected in its letter to stake claim as well, was that the Nationalist Congress Party was its coalition partner and all the NCP’s 54 legislators would support Fadnavis. That this wasn’t the case became clear soon after NCP boss Sharad Pawar removed his nephew Ajit Pawar from the party’s legislature party chief’s post.
In its verdict, the Supreme Court had said that the three-day old Fadnavis government in the state has to face a floor test on Wednesday. A three-judge bench said that the vote will be conducted by a protem or temporary speaker and should be telecast live. The voting cannot be conducted by secret ballot, the court added. “In a situation wherein, if the floor test is delayed, there is a possibility of horse trading, it becomes incumbent upon the Court to act to protect democratic values. An immediate floor test, in such a case, might be the most effective mechanism to do so,” said the court.
It was a mistake, two BJP leaders said
The first was to rely on Ajit Pawar and think that he could get the better than his uncle Sharad Pawar. Because our entire bid was dependent on him getting at least 27 MLAs. We could have got a maximum of 20 Independent MLAs but breaking away Congress or Shiv Sena MLAs within such a short time became impossible,” one of the two BJP leaders mentioned above said. The BJP next rested its hopes for the government’s survival on certain technicalities that sought to use Ajit Pawar’s position as leader of his group to force his legislators to support Fadnavis or create confusion.
As a group leader Ajit Pawar could have issued a whip to party MLAs to vote as per his bidding. However, the NCP checkmated this move by removing Ajit, appointing state chief Jayant Patil in his place and informing this change to both the governor as well as the Speaker’s office. The BJP also intended to first get the Speaker elected to conduct the floor test and opt for a secret ballot as mandated in the Maharashtra legislature’s rules to win the trust vote.
Earlier, Governor Koshyari had sent a communication to the Centre recommending lifting of President’s rule. By the crack of dawn, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had used his special powers to end Central rule without calling a meeting of the Union Cabinet. Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in at the governor’s residence, with just a few netas, apart from officials, in attendance. The coup, which came after NCP and Congress got stalemated over who should bag the post of Speaker in the three party coalition being planned, caught NCP chief Sharad Pawar and Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray, the “CM-in-waiting,” by complete surprise.
Recovering from the shock inflicted by his nephew, Sharad Pawar said the decision to go with the BJP was nephew Ajit’s own and not that of his party and after scrambling by the Sena, NCP and Congress to secure their flock, the ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ of the three parties had pushed back by late evening. Even as it moved to nip the rebellion by warning that the “defectors” would be disqualified and defeated in the resultant by-elections, NCP tried the persuasion track to bring the prodigal nephew home. However, there was no response from Ajit, sources said.
Uddhav Thackeray to lead govt
The Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress cleared the decks for Uddhav Thackeray to become the new Chief Minister. The parties formalised their alliance as Maharashtra Vikas Aghadi before endorsing Thackeray to take over the top job in the state. In his acceptance speech, Thackeray said addressing the plight of farmers would be a top priority. “I accept the responsibility given by all of you. I’m not alone but you all are CM with me. What has happened today is the actual democracy. Together we will wipe off the tears of farmers in the state,” he said. He also thanked Congress president Sonia Gandhi for her party’s support. “I had never dreamed of leading the state. I would like to thank Sonia Gandhi and others. We are giving a new direction to country by keeping faith on each other.” Sharad Pawar said three alliance members would meet Governor to sake claim to form government.
“Three representatives of ‘Maha Vikas Aghadi’ will meet the Governor today. Swearing in ceremony will be held at Shivaji Park, Mumbai on 1st December,” Pawar said. NCP workers raised slogans calling Pawar as “the only one tiger in Maharashtra” when he arrived at Trident Hotel with his daughter Supriya Sule for the tripartite meeting.