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How the BJP pulled off a coup in Maharashtra

By SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF
November 23, 2019 17:08 IST

The turning point came on Friday after 7 pm when there was consensus that Uddhav Thackeray would be the new chief minister.
It was then that Ajit Pawar reportedly excused himself from the meeting on the pretext of meeting a lawyer.
Syed Firdaus Ashraf/Rediff.com reports.

IMAGE: Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, left, greets Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis after the latter's swearing-in on November 23, 2019. Photograph: PTI Photo

Devendra Fadnavis's fate took a U-turn on Saturday, November 23, as he took oath as Maharashtra chief minister for the second time, after his Bharatiya Janata Party joined hands with Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar to form the new government.

The development shocked the Shiv Sena, NCP President Sharad Pawar and the Congress. For less than 12 hours earlier Sharad Pawar had announced unanimity among the three parties over the choice of Sena President Uddhav Thackeray for the Maharashtra CM's post backed by the NCP and Congress.

So, just how did the BJP pull off Fadnavis 2.0?

 

Ever since November 8, the day Fadnavis resigned as chief minister following his inability to muster up the numbers needed to form the government, not a single top BJP leader commented on the possible alliance among the Sena-Congress-NCP.

In fact, Opposition leaders made digs at BJP President and Home Minister Amit Anilchandra Shah for failing to form the government in Mumbai.

However, the party maintained its silence and let the Cong-NCP-Sena thrash out their alliance.

But now, as it has become evident, the BJP, led by Amit Shah, wasn't merely twiddling its thumbs, but working to ensure that Fadnavis returned to power.

Shah waited patiently for two weeks as all three parties, the Congress-NCP-Sena, started discussing the prospects of forming a non-BJP government.

The BJP had a few problems of its own, however. Firstly, it felt that it would be perceived as unfair to join hands with the NCP as it would amount to cheating the mandate and trust of the people.

The BJP during its election campaign had accused Sharad Pawar and nephew Ajit Pawar of corruption, and so this would antagonise its voter base directly, it was felt.

Breaking the Shiv Sena was also an option. However, the hooliganism that would ensue on the streets of Mumbai would lead to more disenchantment among people against the BJP, it was feared.

'The BJP will not be able to poach any of our MLAs. But those who try to do so will have their heads broken,' Shiv Sena MLA Abdul Sattar had warned.

At a press conference on Saturday, Uddhav Thackeray, when asked about his MLAs being poached, issued a veiled warning, saying Maharashtra would teach them a lesson.

Moreover, unlike in other states where the BJP was short of a few legislators to form the government, in Maharashtra there was a huge gap of 40 MLAs as the BJP had won only 105 seats and needed another 40 MLAs for government formation.

As the Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress were on the verge of forming the government, the delay in government formation is what the BJP used to its advantage, and moved in for the kill.

Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari was told to skip the governors's conference President Ram Nath Kovind had convened in New Delhi on Saturday and stay put in Mumbai.

Everyone thought the governor had skipped the meeting to give a chance to the three parties to form the government, but it is now clear it was done to facilitate a BJP-led government.

Senior BJP leaders had gotten in touch with Ajit Pawar and realised that he was someone they could bend to their will as he was vulnerable because of the enforcement directorate cases against him to the tune of Rs 25,000 crore.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said on Saturday afternoon, 'When Fadnavis was the chief minister of Maharashtra he had said Ajit Pawar's place is in Arthur Road jail. Was the ED investigation used to split the NCP? And, will cabinet meetings happen in Arthur Road jail now?'

There has been speculation that Sharad Pawar himself gave his blessings to form this government after his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi earlier in the week. More so, earlier, when NCP MLAs turned up at Raj Bhavan last week to extend support to the Shiv Sena, they had not carried letters of support, which paved the way for President's rule in the state.

The turning point came on Friday after 7 pm when there was consensus that Uddhav Thackeray would be the new chief minister. It was then that Ajit Pawar reportedly excused himself from the meeting on the pretext of meeting a lawyer.

Sanjay Raut, speaking to the media on Saturday, saidhe realised then that something was fishy, but didn't act on their suspicions -- probably because Sharad Pawar was with them.

By 9 pm on Friday, it was decided that Uddhav Thackeray would be the next chief minister, and the only question left to be settled was the assembly speaker's post. But that was a minor detail, it was felt, and Saturday was to be the day when the three parties would together stake a claim to form the government.

At midnight, BJP leaders moved in and Governor Koshyari was informed about the new political formation taking shape.

Early on Saturday morning the home secretary issued an order revoking President's rule in the state. There has been no clarity as to when the Union Cabinet met to recommend this decision -- a legal necessity.

And at 7.50 am, Raj Bhavan came alive with the swearing-in proceedings and Devendra Fadnavis was sworn in for a second term as chief minister.

The Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress have been left licking their wounds and planning their counter-strategy.

For now, only the floor test will decide whether the coup was a success or not.

SYED FIRDAUS ASHRAF / Rediff.com
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