BJP pulls Pawar out of hat, show not over

Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari with newly appointed Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his Deputy CM Ajit Pawar in Mumbai on Saturday. PTI

Devendra Fadnavis returned as the chief minister of Maharashtra in a dramatic fashion, after he was sworn in along with NCP’s Ajit Pawar as his deputy early Saturday morning following Ajit's decision to back the BJP.

But the last word has not been said on the drama, as 50 of the NCP’s 54 MLAs pledged loyalty to NCP chief Sharad Pawar on Saturday evening. The SC is also set to hear the matter on Sunday.

The stunning turn of events left the Sena-NCP-Cong alliance, which had announced that Sena president Uddhav Thackeray would lead the government, in a state of shock.

Fadnavis and Ajit were sworn in at 8 am by Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari at Raj Bhavan after the President’s rule was revoked at 5.47 am in the state, marking the latest twist to the political crisis. 

While there was no official press note from Raj Bhavan, NCP Mumbai president Nawab Malik said the Governor has asked Fadnavis to prove majority by Nov 30. 

Caught unawares, leaders of the Sena and the Congress lashed out at the Governor. Uddhav termed it a ‘fargi-cal’ strike on Maharashtra, while the Congress accused the BJP of acting as a “contract killer” of democracy.

Sena leader Sanjay Raut said Ajit had “backstabbed Sharad Pawar”. 

The BJP, however, defended the dramatic developments, saying it had the “electoral and moral” mandate to form the government in Maharashtra.

Following the development, Sharad Pawar distanced himself from his nephew’s action, terming it an act of "indiscipline". But the NCP supremo didn’t expel or suspend his nephew. 

“I have seen several such things in political life,” Pawar said after the setback. 

Late in the evening, Pawar took charge and ensured the return of around 50 of the 54 legislators, which means the BJP will have to cast its net wider to shore up the numbers needed for the floor test.  

Pawar nephew’s close aide Dhananjay Pawar also walked into the YB Chavan Centre, where the NCP chief was camping. Some of the MLAs, who were present at Raj Bhavan, said they were misled and taken there in the garb of some important meeting.

In another blow, Ajit was removed as the NCP legislature party leader and replaced with state NCP president Jayant Patil.

Earlier, in a top-secret operation controlled from New Delhi and executed with methodical precision, Fadnavis and Pawar were sworn in soon after the President’s rule was lifted.  

After the hush-hush swearing-in ceremony, Fadnavis said: “I would like to express gratitude to Ajit Pawar ji that he took a decision to provide a stable government by coming together with the BJP. Some other leaders also came with us and we staked the claim to form government.”

Explaining his actions, Ajit said Maharashtra needed a stable government. “The state needed a stable government and the discussions (between NCP-Congress and Shiv Sena) was taking long,” he added.

Later, after a rousing welcome at the state BJP headquarters, Fadnavis said that his government would last a full five-year term.  

But the NCP’s Malik doubted that. “Fadnavis will not pass the floor test. We will defeat them in the Speaker’s election itself,” Malik said.

 

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