Deal in works: Uddhav Maharashtra CM for five years, deputies from Congress, NCP

Pradeep Kaushal, Manoj C G
NCP chief Sharad Pawar arrives at the residence of Congress chief Sonia Gandhi in New Delhi on Monday. (Express Photo: Prem Nath Pandey)

While NCP chief Sharad Pawar insisted that he did not discuss government formation in Maharashtra during a meeting with Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday, sources told The Indian Express that an understanding has tentatively been reached for a three-party coalition to take charge of the state early next month with Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray at the helm.

Sources said that if all goes according to plan, the new formation will have two Deputy Chief Ministers — one each from the NCP and Congress. They were also clear that Uddhav would be Chief Minister for the full five-year term, with no rotation policy for the post. Read in Malayalam

Under the arrangement, sources said, the 42 portfolios will be shared according to the strength of the three parties in the new Assembly. The Sena has 56 seats in the 288-member House followed by NCP (54) and Congress with (44) — the portfolio split could likely be 15, 14 and 13 in that order.

Sources said the Sena has left it to the Congress and NCP to decide on the post of Speaker with the name of Congress leader and former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan doing the rounds.

The broad understanding has been worked out by Pawar who, sources said, was the “moving spirit” behind the efforts to prop up a non-BJP government. The NCP chief, however, kept his cards close to his chest while speaking to reporters after his meeting with Sonia Gandhi.

“We have discussed in detail the political situation in Maharashtra... We will keep an eye on the situation in Maharashtra. Congress and NCP leaders will hold further talks on the future course of action,” Pawar said.

“Sharad Pawar met the Congress President today and briefed her on the situation in Maharashtra. It was decided that in a day or two, representatives from NCP and Congress will meet in Delhi to discuss the way forward,” Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said in a tweet.

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Sources, however, said that with an understanding in place, the series of meetings that are being held within and among the three parties is part of the “democratic process” and efforts to build consensus and momentum for a new formation, especially with the Shiv Sena having fought elections with the BJP.

Uddhav is expected to visit Delhi soon. But sources said he has deferred his proposed visit on November 24 to Ayodhya as it would not be in sync with the politics of his new allies.

Pawar outside Sonia Gandhi's residence in New Delhi, Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Express Photo: Prem Nath Pandey)

Sources in the Congress said the party was “not in a hurry” and wants “clarity” on some more issues before a final agreement can be reached. They said the party would form a government with the ideologically incompatible Sena only after the ground work is done. “We are going in that direction but we will not hurry. We need clarity on some issues. There needs to be some clarity on the ideological front also,” a senior Congress leader said.

Two leaders of the Congress high command and a senior leader from Maharashtra told The Indian Express that the question of whether the party should join the government or provide outside support is still not settled. The NCP and the Sena, a leader said, want the Congress to join the government to give it stability.

The Congress and the NCP, sources said, will “drive a hard bargain” and extract their “pound of flesh” because the Sena “is not in a position to dictate terms anymore” after cutting ties with the BJP and NDA. The two parties will have to balance the ideological loss of aligning with the Sena with some political gains, they said. Besides, sources said, there are still some reservations within the NCP about giving the Chief Minister’s post to the Sena for the full term.

During discussions before the understanding was reached, sources said, Sena’s Thane strongman Eknath Shinde was among those being considered for the top job. Shinde had been earlier elected leader of the Shiv Sena Legislature Party. The names of Sena leader Subhash Desai and Uddhav’s son Aaditya Thackeray had also gained circulation.

However, sources said, Pawar was clear that Uddhav would need to be at the helm to give heft and standing to the arrangement. Desai and Shinde did not inspire confidence among the coalition partners, while Aaditya was considered too young to head a government that would include senior leaders such as Ajit Pawar and Chhagan Bhujbal.

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Sources said other pieces of the new formation are being put into place. The draft common minimum programme is ready, they said, and will include “issues concerning the welfare of people and development of Maharashtra”. Issues that could lead to controversies have been excluded, including a quota in education for Muslims, sources said.

Before his meeting with Sonia Gandhi, Pawar was seen with Sena Parliamentary party leader Sanjay Raut in Parliament House. They met again after Pawar’s meeting with the Congress president.

Maharashtra was placed under President’s rule on November 12 after no party or alliance staked a claim to form a government following a split between pre-poll partners BJP and Shiv Sena — the Sena wanted the Chief Minister’s post for half of the five-year term.

Ahead of his meeting with Gandhi, Pawar said all parties seeking to stake claim have to “choose their own paths”. Sources, however, said the remarks were not reflective of his real plans.