In Overnight Coup, Fadnavis Back as Maharashtra CM, NCP's Ajit Pawar as Deputy

Sharad Pawar has said that his nephew's decision is personal, and the NCP is not supporting the BJP.

New Delhi: In an unexpected turn of events on Saturday morning, Bharatiya Janata Party leader Devendra Fadnavis took oath as the chief minister of Maharashtra, with Nationalist Congress Party’s Ajit Pawar as his deputy.

This development came a day after NCP leader Sharad Pawar had announced on Friday evening that the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress had come to an agreement that Uddhav Thackeray would be chief minister for the next five years, as the consensus candidate of the alliance. Weeks of back-and-forth had gone into this announcement.

President’s rule was revoked in the state at 5:47 am.

Sharad Pawar tweeted that this was not the NCP’s officially decision, and that Ajit Pawar (his nephew) had gone out on his own. Ajit has reportedly been sacked as NCP legislature party leader.

NCP leaders are supposed to meet at 4:3o pm today in Mumbai.

Given Sharad’s tweet, it seems clear that Maharashtra is headed for another round of political turmoil. The BJP will undoubtedly use the time to engineer defections in other parties in the days to come, opening the space for possible horse-trading. The opposition may accuse the BJP of sabotaging the formation of a stable government by the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress, whose leaders looked all set to meet the governor on Saturday.

Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut also supported Sharad’s claim, and said that the BJP has “backstabbed” the people of Maharashtra. Ajit had acted on his own, he told the media.

Sharad’s daughter, NCP leader Supriya Sule, called Ajit a “traitor” who had betrayed both the family and the party, according to the Indian Express.

NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik has alleged that party leaders’ signatures were misused for the swearing-in. “We had taken signatures from MLAs for attendance, it was misused as a basis for the oath. Ye dhoke se banayi gayi sarkar hai aur ye vidhan sabha ke floor pe haaregi, saare vidhayak hamare saath hain (This government which was formed by cheating will lose in the assembly, all the MLAs are with us).”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Fadnavis on Saturday morning, but was mum on how exactly his party managed to wrangle a victory even after earlier telling the governor that it would not be able to form government.

“People had given us a clear mandate, but Shiv Sena tried to ally with other parties after results, after which president’s rule was imposed. Maharashtra needed a stable govt not a ‘khichidi’ govt,” Fadnavis said at the swearing in, according to PTI.

Ajit Pawar, after taking oath as the deputy chief minister, “From result day on October 24, no party was able to form the government. Maharashtra was facing many problems, including farmers’ issues. So we decided to form a stable government.”

Congress sources too told The Wire that the NCP decision was likely taken by Ajit Pawar, without his uncle Sharad Pawar’s consent. “Let us see. If all the NCP MLAS go with Ajit Pawar [in the floor test], this means they are all in it together,” they added.

Political sources added that Ajit Pawar supposedly has 20 MLAs with him, but Amit Shah and Narendra Modi will go to any extent to ensure the numbers add up on the floor, sources said. The decision that BJP-NCP would form government was taken by Amit Shah and Narendra Modi on Friday evening, sources added. In a meeting the two were having with other officials last night, Shah went out of the room six times to take urgent phone calls.

Most Congress leaders seem to be in the dark on what exactly the BJP and NCP are doing.

Prithviraj Chavan, former Maharashtra chief minister and Congress leader, told The Wire that this is “a new era in Indian politics, a defining moment”. “This is sheer blackmail,” he added, likely referring to the Enforcement Directorate case against Sharad and Ajit filed in September this year.

The BJP, which is the largest party in the state with 105 MLAs after the recent assembly elections, decided to not stake claim after the Sena decided to severe ties with the party. Since then, the Sena had been struggling to form an alliance with the Congress and the NCP. Sharad Pawar was seen as playing a pivotal role in bringing the three parties together and had held multiple meetings both the Congress’ national leadership and the Sena.

The Congress, which had 44 MLAs has been reluctant of entering into a deal with the Sena, but reportedly had come around on Friday.

Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari was supposed to be attending a conference in Delhi on Saturday, but is said to have cancelled his plans after the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance was seen as firming up. He administered the oath to Fadnavis and Ajit on Saturday morning.

Koshiyari had recommended president’s rule on the pretext that no party or formation had sufficient numbers to prove a majority. It is unclear at the moment whether he was given a letter of support of all BJP-NCP MLAs.

In 2014 too, the NCP had supported the BJP and helped it form government.

In September this year, the Enforcement Directorate had booked both Sharad Pawar and Ajit Pawar (now the Maharashtra deputy chief minister) in a criminal case of money laundering linked to the alleged Rs 25,000 crore scam in Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank. The case was filed just ahead of the Maharashtra assembly elections. Sharad had then alleged that the Centre was using investigative agencies to intimidate the opposition, and said that he “won’t bow down“.