Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Sharad Pawar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi this afternoon over the farm crisis in Maharashtra, causing a buzz in the middle of intense political activity to form a government in the state after a week of President's Rule.
"Due to the prevalence of Presidential Rule in the state, your urgent intervention is highly necessitated. I shall be grateful, if you take immediate steps to initiate massive relief measures and ameliorate the miseries of distressed farmers," Mr Pawar wrote to PM Modi in a three-page letter, accessed by NDTV.
The meeting was seen as significant at a time Sharad Pawar's NCP is much sought after for an alliance that can take power in Maharashtra after no party won a majority in last month's election. An offer of the President's post for the 79-year-old Maharashtra stalwart is also believed to be on the table.
NCP and Congress leaders will meet in the evening to discuss how to partner with the Shiv Sena, a long-term BJP ally that recently ended its alliance with the ruling party over a power tussle.
The BJP and Shiv Sena contested the polls in an alliance and won enough seats together but fell out over the Sena's demand for 50:50 power sharing including rotational chief ministership. The BJP rejected Sena's assertion that such a deal was discussed earlier this year, before the national election.
The Sena hopes to form government with support from rivals NCP and Congress and was on the verge of staking claim last week, but it has been forced to wait as the two parties take their time weighing their options.
Against this backdrop, PM Modi's praise for the NCP on Monday in parliament was viewed with interest.
"Today, I want to appreciate two parties, NCP and BJD (Biju Janata Dal of Naveen Patnaik). These parties have wonderfully adhered to parliamentary norms. They have never gone into the well of the house (to protest). Yet, they have made their points very effectively. Every political party, including my party, should learn from them," the Prime Minister said, opening a debate to mark the 250th session of the Rajya Sabha.
There have been reports about the BJP - which emerged as the single largest party with 105 seats in the 288-member assembly - pursuing Mr Pawar, whose party is only two seats behind the Shiv Sena (56) and can help the BJP cross the majority-mark of 145. Sources say Mr Pawar has been given a big offer to chew on - that of the post of President of India.
Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut, who has been in touch with Mr Pawar and met him even last evening, said it was he who had requested the veteran leader to "brief the PM about the farmer crisis" as he is one of the tallest leaders of the state.
"If Uddhav Thackeray comes to Delhi and all of us meet PM Modi, then what khichdi will you cook (what will you speculate)? Many MPs will meet the PM to speak about Maharashtra," Mr Raut said.
Shiv Sena sources says government formation with the NCP and Congress is on track. Mr Raut says "by early December", a Shiv Sena-led alliance government will be in power in Maharashtra. "All obstacles that were raised in the last 10-15 days have been cleared. By tomorrow you will know that all obstacles have been cleared," he said today.
Speculation that a Sena-NCP-Congress is not a done deal was fueled by Sharad Pawar's cryptic, noncommittal replies to the media.
With the NCP and Congress stalling a decision, Sena sources say the party is "happy to revive its alliance with the BJP" if the BJP reverts to the 50-50 chief ministership formula.
Mr Pawar has ruled out any understanding with the BJP. "There is no question of supporting the BJP. We will have discussions with the Congress, our partner," he said on Monday after meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi.