How the Maharashtra election, the results for which were dubbed as 'forgone conclusion', took unexpected twists and turns
Before and even during the Assembly polls in Maharashtra, political experts and observers had declared the elections to be a foregone conclusion.
With Devendra Fadnavis firmly at the helm of the state Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) unit and the alliance between his party and the Shiv Sena sealed, the 'Mahayuti' seemed to have been on its way towards another sweep in the state.
To add to BJP's optimism, just two months before the state went to polls, the Centre had abrogated Article 370 of the Indian Constitution granting special status to Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). A part of the BJP manifesto since the party's origin, Article 370 was a major poll plank during the party's campaign in both Maharashtra as well as Haryana.
The BJP and its allies seemed poised for a grand return in Maharashtra, with Fadnavis— having been the first Maharashtra CM in 47 years to complete his full five year term at the post— adding another feather to his cap.
That, however, was not to be, as the events on the day of the results and thereafter unfolded.
How did it all start?
As the results started trickling in on October 24, focus shifted to Haryana, where no party could manage a simple majority. A hung assembly, some kingmakers, and the Congress' and BJP's rush to woo them became the story.
That story, however, was quite swiftly resolved— with the BJP, having secured 40 seats, tying up with the Jannayak Janata Party (JJP) led by Dushyant Chautala and forming a coalition government in the state.
The turn of events for the BJP, however, were not so swift in Maharashtra. To begin with, the party— which had won 105 seats— and the Shiv Sena, which won 56, started off by holding two separate press briefings over the results.
During Sena's briefing, party chief Uddhav Thackeray hinted at what was to come when he said that while the Shiv Sena has been accommodative with the BJP's demands on many instances in the past, it is not going to back down on its 50:50 power-sharing demand this time around.
Initially, say BJP functionaries and leaders, they thought that the Sena was trying to put up pressure because it wanted certain portfolios and the Deputy Chief Minister's post— something that the BJP was ready to grant, but not without some wrangling of its own.
"Apart from Home, the central BJP leadership was more or less ready to part with other portfolios to the Sena. They had been talking about deputy CM for some time during the elections, and the state BJP leadership was willing to grant them that post as well," a BJP functionary, in the know of what transpired during those initial days, said.
"The rotational CM demand, however, was surprising. We absolutely cannot and could not part with that," the functionary added.
50:50 demand, the different definitions
Both BJP and Sena leaders have asserted that the discussions regarding the equal distribution of power happened between the top leadership and only they know what exactly was decided.
Officially, however, the BJP has maintained that there was no such formula— Fadnavis himself said so days after the results and during the deadlock between the two partners. This— BJP and Fadnavis' assertion that there was no power-sharing formula agreed upon— did not go down well with Thackeray.
"There is a reason for that. During our briefings at the time of the elections, Saheb (Thackeray) would tell us that this is the time that a Sena CM is installed in Maharashtra," the Sena leader quoted above said.
"He would tell us to convey to the cadre his message, that equal power is being granted to Sena, and that they should go along with the alliance because of that. When BJP said there was no such formula agreed upon, the optics of that were bad for Saheb," the leader added.
A miffed Thackeray did not bother the BJP much. On the record, the party continued to maintain that the formula did not exist.
"Our stand is the stand taken by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis— that there is no 50:50 formula, so there's no question of defining what the 50:50 pact is," BJP spokesperson Rajeev Panday had told Moneycontrol.
On its part, Sena started pointing towards a press conference that Fadnavis addressed after the two parties announced alliance for the Lok Sabha polls in February, stating that the power sharing arrangement for the Assembly elections was announced by Fadnavis himself then.
By this time, however, while the BJP was confident of Sena coming around, the regional party's leaders and functionaries stated that Thackeray seemed unusually firm on the demand. "In fact, we were being told that different options were being considered since that time," a functionary said, referring to the period when both BJP and Sena were stuck in a deadlock.
How things started moving— and quickly
When the deadlock stretched until November 8, Fadnavis tendered his resignation and, in a press conference after the development, reaffirmed that there was no rotational CM formula that was agreed upon.
On his part, Thackeray accused Fadnavis and the BJP's top leadership of lying and betraying the Sena.
With the two largest parties, which were in a pre-poll alliance, not going ahead with the government formation, Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari on November 9 invited BJP to show its willingness to form the government in the state.
The Governor had given BJP 48 hours, but the party went into a huddle on November 10. During the first meeting of Maharashtra BJP's core group, according to BJP sources, it was decided that the party won't stake claim and adopt a 'wait and watch' approach.
"Some of the leaders were of the opinion that us not staking claim would probably leave Sena with no other option but to come back to the BJP," a party source said. "But overall, we did not have the numbers. The only strategy was to make sure that the BJP is not seen as power-hungry but a party that went with its allies," the source added.
With that in mind, after another BJP core committee meeting late afternoon, senior party leaders headed for the Raj Bhavan, where the party conveyed to the Governor that it was unable to form a government in Maharashtra.
BJP's state chief, Chandrakant Patil, while addressing the media after party leaders' meeting with the Governor, said the mandate during the Assembly elections was for the Mahayuti.
"But since Shiv Sena cannot join to form the government, we have conveyed to the Governor that we won't be able to form the government in Maharashtra," Patil said.
"Now if the Shiv Sena wants to form a government along with Congress and NCP, we wish them the best," Patil added.
Next, the Governor invited Shiv Sena to express its willingness to form the government in state. Sena sources say that by the time the BJP had met for the second time, preempting BJP's decision, top Sena leadership had already begun preparations for intensifying talks with Congress and NCP.
By this time, Sena and Congress had moved its legislators to a hotel in Bandra and Jaipur respectively. Sources in both the parties say that they were given indications that the BJP would soon try to contact their legislators and perhaps launch 'Operation Lotus', much like they did in Karnataka.
While Sena had been negotiating with state party leaders of Congress, the next step was to engage with the grand old party's central leadership. Senior leaders from Maharashtra Congress were already discussing all the possible prospects with the party's central leaders, but they also wanted Thackeray to get into the picture.
On November 11 morning, with the 7:30 pm deadline set by the Governor for Sena to express its willingness to form the government looming, Sena's lone minister in Narendra Modi Cabinet, Arvind Sawant, resigned.
Consequently, Thackeray dispatched his long-time trusted aides, Milind Narvekar and Anil Desai, to talk to the Congress' top brass in New Delhi. Reports suggest that Thackeray also spoke to Congress' interim chief, Sonia Gandhi, even as the grand old party's top leadership was in a huddle.
Sources had earlier told Moneycontrol that the Kerala and Tamil Nadu units of Congress were opposed to the alliance, but those differences were sorted by the party's top brass. Several rounds of talks later, Congress had been ready to offer in-principle support to a Sena-NCP-Congress government, with sources saying that a letter of support from the Congress' side was ready.
Even as the talks continued in New Delhi, in Mumbai, first-time legislator Aaditya Thackeray and other senior Sena leaders headed to the Raj Bhawan. A Sena MLA lodged in a resort in Malad said initially there was jubilation within the camp because the MLAs all thought that both the Congress and the Sharad Pawar-led NCP had offered their support.
"But eventually it became clear that the letter of support from Congress had not come," the legislator said. "It was ready, but it was not dispatched because Pawar wanted to have more discussions," a Congress source said. Another Congress leader, however, said the idea from the beginning was to let the ball be in Congress-NCP's court, instead of Sena leading the talks.
Pawar, with his push for more discussions and stalling the government formation, had managed to do just that. The Governor then invited the third-largest party, NCP, to form the government, and was given time until 8:30 pm on November 12.
On November 12, news started trickling in that the Governor had recommended central rule in Maharashtra. This, even as the deadline for NCP to express its willingness for government formation was yet to pass.
According to reports, the Governor's decision was, in fact, prompted by the NCP's request for more time. Reports suggest that the Governor then concluded that since no party or coalition is able to form a government, President's Rule should be recommended.
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena decided to knock on the doors of the Supreme Court, arguing that an extension of time as demanded by them on November 11, cannot be declined.
By November 12 evening, meanwhile, President's Rule had been imposed in Maharashtra— for the third time in its history.
What happens now?
If the events between November 12 and November 15 are anything to go by, the Congress-NCP-Shiv Sena alignment seems very much on the table.
The President's Rule can be revoked through another proclamation if the leader of a particular party can produce signatures guaranteeing the numbers required for staking claim to form government.
This is exactly the reason why, after the imposition of President's Rule, all the three parties had followed a similar line: that while they had asked for 48 hours, the Governor has now given them six months to hold discussions and come to a conclusion regarding government formation.
On November 12, the Congress and the NCP held a joint meeting in Mumbai, in which the parties deliberated upon a Common Minimum Programme (CMP) that needs to be adopted for the three parties to form a stable government.
Sources said senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel, who had flown down to Mumbai, had a telephonic conversation with Thackeray.
"While the common minimum programme has not yet been fully finalised, Patel and Thackeray spoke briefly about it, and Patel also said the Congress has given in-principle approval to the alliance between the parties," a Congress source had told Moneycontrol.
Since then, the three parties have been holding discussions over the CMP. Sources said the programme will concern agrarian and economic issues, such as farm loan waiver and allowance for unemployed youth. It will also consist a demand for the building of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj's statue and Babasaheb Ambedkar's memorial, sources said.
"Sonia Gandhi and Pawar will meet on November 17, during the start of the Winter Session of Parliament and deliberate on the CMP," a Congress source said, adding that the decks for staking claim to government will be cleared after the CMP is finalised.
What next for Sena-BJP alliance?
Sena leaders have put the blame squarely on BJP for the failure in government formation, while the BJP has done the same. Leaders from both the parties have, for now, heaved good riddance but the break-up of 'yuti' is a major development in Maharashtra's political landscape.
This is not the first time that the allies have fallen out. The Sena and BJP fought the 2014 assembly polls separately, and while they did form a post-poll alliance after none of the parties were able to form a government, the two parties again fought the 2017 civic body polls in Mumbai individually.
While both the parties have not categorically stated that the alliance is off, leaders from both the parties have hinted that Sena would probably be out of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) for some time to come.
BJP leaders in the state say that this will provide the party an opportunity to cash in on the Hindutva votes in Maharashtra while pointing towards how the Sena, in its lust for power, joined hands with NCP and Congress, Sena-BJP's traditional rivals.
Sena leaders, however, say that had this been about lust for power, Sawant would not have resigned as the minister in Union Cabinet. "This is about justice. We won't tolerate being taken for a ride," a Sena functionary said.
For the BJP, the fallout might also have wider implications with its other allies. According to reports, with Jharkhand heading to polls, BJP's ally in the state, the All Jharkhand Students' Union (AJSU) is expecting to extract concessions from its ally after BJP's performance in Maharashtra and Haryana.BJP's Bihar ally, the Janata Dal (United), has also batted for a "proportionate representation" for the party in the Union Cabinet. With all-important and difficult elections in Jharkhand, Delhi and Bihar coming up, the fallout in Maharashtra, observers state, might hurt the saffron party in these states.Are you happy with your current monthly income? Do you know you can double it without working extra hours or asking for a raise? Rahul Shah, one of the India's leading expert on wealth building, has created a strategy which makes it possible... in just a short few years. You can know his secrets in his FREE video series airing between 12th to 17th December. You can reserve your free seat here.