Mumbai. Nearly a week after his surprise meeting with Sanjay Raut sparked off buzz about a possible arrangement with rival Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar on Wednesday firmly ruled out any possibility of the NCP-Congress combine arriving at an arrangement with the Shiv Sena to form the next government in Maharashtra.
Pawar said it was the Bharatiya Janata Party-Shiv Sena alliance that had been given the mandate to form the government in the state elections and nudged the two allies to quickly work out the details and not lead the state into a constitutional crisis.
Pawar, a four-time chief minister, also brushed aside speculation that the Shiv Sena could walk out of the NDA and form the government with help from the NCP and the Congress.
“This alliance (between the Shiv Sena and BJP) has been in existence for 25 years. How can they separate now…,” he said at a Press conference in Mumbai. The 78-year-old veteran also predicted that the two saffron parties will come together to form the government “today, tomorrow or the day after”. But they will.
This is the first time that the Maratha strongman has unequivocally spiked any possibility of the NCP teaming up with the rival Sena, a buzz that was set off by his meeting with Raut six days back and had been fuelled by the Shiv Sena which has been bargaining for a better deal with the BJP.
When he was in Delhi this week to brief Congress president Sonia Gandhi, he did make the point that the NCP-Congress had received a mandate to sit in the opposition. He had, however, quickly added ”...but I can’t say what will happen in the state”.
Wednesday’s statement did not have any riders attached.
Pawar did say that they will watch how things pan out in the next three days and the NCP-Congress would take all decisions together. “We were in a pre-poll alliance with Congress and whatever we decide, we will do it together,” he said.
But the fact is, Pawar said, the BJP-Sena combine had been given the mandate by the people and “we are waiting for them to handle the situation properly”.
“The mandate of people for the NCP, Congress has been to act as a strong opposition. We are capable of handling this responsibility,” he said. Turning to the two squabbling allies, he asked them to form the government quickly and “give us the opportunity to act as a responsible opposition”.
Sharad Pawar’s timeline of the BJP-Shiv Sena forming the government in a few days matches the expectation in the BJP camp, which appeared to have softened its stand on giving more ministerial berths to Uddhav Thackeray’s party. But the BJP leaders are still firm on retaining the chief minister’s post for itself for the next five years. The Shiv Sena has been quoting a pact reached between the two parties ahead of the national elections that it says, included a provision for 50-50 sharing of power including the chief minister’s post.
It is this demand that the two allies should get a shot at the chief minister’s chair by rotation which has held up forward movement on government formation in Maharashtra. Results to the state elections held last month were declared on October 24.
The BJP and Sena fought the elections together and secured 105 seats and 56 seats respectively in a 288-member assembly. The NCP bagged 54 seats and the Congress 44. The majority mark in the legislative assembly is 145.
As Shiv Sena had attempted to raise the pressure on the BJP to come around to its demands, it had also claimed that Thackeray’s party could form the government without support from the BJP if it decided to. That claim, which came after Sanjay Raut’s first meeting with Pawar, was widely interpreted to imply that the Sena was counting on support from the NCP and the Congress.
Pawar distanced his party from this claim, pointing out that he also wanted to ask Sanjay Raut how he had arrived at this calculation.