After Sonia green light, Congress and NCP to join Sena-led govt in Maharashtra

Manoj C G, Vishwas Waghmode
Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray at Sharad Pawar’s Mumbai home, Thursday. (Express photo: Nirmal Harindran)

The uncertainty over government formation in Maharashtra is set to end within the next 48 hours with the Congress and NCP reaching an understanding Thursday on backing a Shiv Sena-led government in the state. The two parties, sources said, will join the government and the nitty-gritty of the power-sharing formula could be finalised and announced before Saturday.

The Congress Working Committee met Thursday morning at party chief Sonia Gandhi’s residence and gave the green signal for an alliance with the NCP and the ideologically incompatible Shiv Sena. Senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Mallikarjun Kharge and K C Venugopal are expected in Mumbai Friday where, along with the NCP, they will finalise the power-sharing formula with the Shiv Sena leadership.

Late Thursday night, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and his MLA-son Aaditya met NCP chief Sharad Pawar at his Silver Oak residence in south Mumbai. Shiv Sena’s Rajya Sabha member Sanjay Raut was also present at the meeting.

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Sources in the Shiv Sena said Uddhav Thackeray has also called a meeting of party legislators on Friday morning. “The party chief is likely to speak on government formation,” a Sena functionary said.

Uddhav and Aaditya Thackeray at Sharad Pawar’s Mumbai home, Thursday. (Express photo: Nirmal Harindran)

The Congress understanding is that the government will be led by the Sena with the Congress and NCP getting posts of Deputy Chief Ministers. The post of Assembly Speaker, the Congress believes, will be given to it. The portfolios will be divided as per the respective party strength. “It is almost equal for the Sena and NCP and the Congress may get two less,” a senior leader said.

But sources in the NCP said the party is still demanding rotation of the CM post. At least one senior NCP leader told The Indian Express that the issue is still open and will come up during discussions with the Sena. Another critical factor, sources said, is who will head the government. The NCP and the Congress are comfortable with Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister. This view will also be conveyed to the Sena.

The CWC had to hold a special meeting and give its in-principle approval since an alliance with the Sena, which has a hard Hindutva past, is no less than crossing the Rubicon for the Congress.

The party was keen that the word “secular” finds mention in the Common Minimum Programme and the suggestion had emerged as a sticking point. The Congress, sources said, has now climbed down and the CMP will spell out that the new government will adhere to the Preamble of the Constitution. The document will reaffirm “total faith and commitment to the Constitution of India in letter and spirit and that the government which will be formed will work accordingly to uphold those foundational values,” a senior leader said.

Top Congress and NCP leaders met later after which senior leader Prithviraj Chavan said the Congress and NCP have “complete unanimity” on all issues regarding government formation and they will now hold talks with the Shiv Sena to “finalise the architecture of the alliance”.

Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut said a new government in Maharashtra should be in place before December and a final decision on it will be taken in a day or two. He said there are no plans of any meeting between Sonia Gandhi and Uddhav Thackeray this week.

Gandhi was initially reluctant to the proposal for forming a government with the Sena but changed her stand in the face of the “collective resolve of the Maharashtra Congress leadership to keep the BJP at bay,” a senior leader said. The CWC too took the view that the principal opponent is the BJP and “given their aggression” it is important to checkmate them by dividing the NDA and keeping them out of an important state like Maharashtra, the leader said. The signal from more than two-third of the Congress MLAs that they may cross sides to enable formation of an alternative government also forced the party central leadership’s hands.