Sheela Bhatt reveals how the BJP and Amit Shah have halted -- for now -- the Shiv Sena's dream of forming a government in Maharashtra.
It was an Amit Shah show all the way.
Full of political risks and legal entanglements.
In a dramatic day that began with the secretive swearing-in ceremony of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Devendra Fadnavis as Maharashtra's chief minister and the Nationalist Congress Party's Ajit Pawar as deputy chief minister, there are so many emotions, political issues, legal controversies and democratic proprietary-related questions that it will take a long, long, time to decide who won and who lost.
But the urgent question to know is if Fadnavis can prove his majority on the floor of the state assembly.
Senior Congress leaders who were completely shattered at 9 am by the early morning developments had recovered some confidence by 6 pm.
One of them told Rediff.com, "(NCP President) Sharad Pawar has told the Shiv Sena and Congress to shift its MLAs to a safe place. He is himself directing the MLAs and wants to ensure that the BJP loses the floor test. We are given hope by Pawar."
Asked why the BJP would gamble for such high stakes if it was not sure of the NCP MLAs and Independents backing it during the floor test, the Congress leader, who is in touch with Sharad Pawar, responded, saying, "We are now told that Ajit Pawar did what he did in a bout of anger. He took pages of signatures to the governor. The NCP MLAs have realised that the senior Pawar isn't part of the game, so they have returned to the senior Pawar. The BJP is tense by the evening."
But when Rediff.com spoke to a senior BJP leader who is handling the tie-up with Ajit Pawar, he declared, "We are 200% sure of passing the floor test."
When asked how the BJP can make such claim when just 5 NCP MLAs were missing when Sharad Pawar called a meeting on Saturday afternoon, the BJP leader responded, "We know what is going on. There were more than 54 people shown. A few MLCs were presented as MLAs for consumption of the media."
The mockery of democracy notwithstanding, in India such political drama isn't new.
There are, in fact, standard operating procedures for political parties where all warring sides present their confidence before the media to confuse, scare, threaten and lure back MLAs who are the most important characters as their votes decide the end result of such a high voltage drama.
The BJP negotiations with Ajit Pawar have been on for a long time and is not an overnight development. After becoming deputy CM, Ajit Pawar told ANI that he had told Sharad Pawar about his views on cutting a deal with the Shiv Sena and Congress. He says he told his uncle that he is for a 'stable government'.
However, before handing over the letter to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari declaring support to the BJP, Ajit Pawar said he had not informed Sharad Pawar about his decision.
The question most debated in Mumbai is how did a leader who knows Maharashtra like no other politician does -- Sharad Pawar -- fail to know his nephew's intentions.
A senior BJP leader, speaking soon after the swearing-in ceremony, said, "The BJP and NCP are looking at different ways, but going together in the same direction."
Overnight, so much has changed.
Till Friday, November 22, the Congress and Shiv Sena were discussing ministerial portfolios. Today, the Congress is nowhere in the picture except to physically guard its 44 MLAs from poaching by the BJP. The party depends totally on Sharad Pawar to extricate it from the political mess.
The Shiv Sena stands defensive without holding onto its ideology and its usually aggressive self.
A BJP leader in Mumbai argued that things moved swiftly by noon Friday when Ajit Pawar handed over the signatures of NCP MLAs to Governor Koshyari who took a "few hours to verify" the signatures before forwarding the letter to New Delhi.
After handing over the letter to the governor, Ajit Pawar even attended the Sena-NCP-Congress meeting at the Nehru Centre!
As Sanjay Raut, the Shiv Sena's Rajya Sabha MP, claimed, he grew suspicious about Ajit Pawar's behaviour at Friday's meeting. Pawar Jr was not looking straight into anyone's eyes, recalled Raut.
Raut got it right this time.
The BJP has now declared war by opening many fronts to win power in the richest state of the Union.
The political action is being directed by Amit Shah. It will be a fight to the finish. Shah can end the game by winning straightaway, the other way is to make his enemies lose.
Let us see what happens.