Leaders and MLAs of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress gathered at the Grand Hyatt hotel in Mumbai on Monday evening in an apparent show of strength, ANI reported. A banner placed behind the MLAs’ seats read, “We are 162”, implying that the number of MLAs present was 162, well above the Maharashtra Assembly’s majority mark of 145.
The MLAs took a pledge of allegiance during the meeting. “With the Constitution of India as my witness, I swear that under the leadership of [Nationalist Congress Party chief] Sharad Pawar, [Shiv Sena chief] Uddhav Thackeray and [Congress President] Sonia Gandhi, I will be honest to my party,” they said. “I won’t get lured by anything. I will not do anything that will benefit BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party].”
The Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress are attempting to keep their flock together, two days after rebel Nationalist Congress Party leader Ajit Pawar broke away from alliance talks and instead entered into a tie-up with the BJP. BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis took oath as the chief minister, and Pawar as the deputy chief minister. These developments took place hours after the Shiv Sena, the Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress finalised a deal to form an alternative alliance government in the state.
Sharad Pawar told the gathering of MLAs on Monday that he would personally ensure that none of them loses membership of the Assembly for voting against the BJP during the floor test, PTI reported. “Misinformation is being spread that Ajit Pawar is the NCP’s legislature party leader who would issue a whip to all [NCP] MLAs to vote for the BJP,” Sharad Pawar said.
Adding that he had consulted legal and constitutional experts, Sharad Pawar said: “I have come to the conclusion that Ajit Pawar, who is removed from his position, has no legal right to issue a whip to MLAs.”
Uddhav Thackeray told the gathering that for the BJP, it is a case of “Sattamev Jayate” (power always triumphs) instead of “Satyamev Jayate” (truth always triumphs), the Hindustan Times reported. “In the last 30 years, you have seen our friendship,” Thackeray said, referring to the BJP. “If you create more problems, we will show our might.”
Maharashtra Congress President Balasaheb Thorat also addressed the meeting. “After this meeting, the newly formed government [of BJP and Ajit Pawar] should resign as they don’t have the majority,” he said, according to The Indian Express. “We have 162 MLAs with us.”
Reacting to the gathering of MLAs at the hotel and the pledge, BJP leader Ashish Shelar said it was insulting. “Identification parade is done in case of accused persons, not in case of elected MLAs,” he said. “It is an insult to the MLAs and the people who elected them.”
Meanwhile, Nationalist Congress Party leader Nawab Malik said the party still hopes Ajit Pawar will return to its fold. “BJP still has a chance to save its honour,” he said. “Ajit Pawar is a part of our party, he is part of the Pawar family. We are trying that he comes back to NCP and admits his mistake.”
Samajwadi Party MLA Abu Azmi, who had arrived at the Grand Hyatt hotel, said that after getting permission from party chief Akhilesh Yadav, he has given a letter of support to the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress formation. The Samajwadi Party has two legislators in the Assembly.
Supreme Court reserves verdict
Earlier on Monday, the Supreme Court continued to hear the three parties’ petition against the developments in Maharashtra. Justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna decided that they will deliver their verdict at 10.30 am on Tuesday on when the Assembly should hold a floor test.
Representing the Centre, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta told the court that the BJP had the support of all 54 MLAs of the Nationalist Congress Party to form a government, and asked for two to three days to reply to the plea against the governor. “The governor was not supposed to conduct a roving and fishing inquiry to ascertain which party had the numbers to form government,” Mehta told the court.
Mehta added that though a floor test was the ultimate test, no party could say that it must be conducted within 24 hours. He questioned whether the Supreme Court could monitor the proceedings in the Assembly.
The lawyer for Ajit Pawar told the court that he is part of the “real Nationalist Congress Party” and was authorised by all 54 party MLAs to take a decision to form the government with the BJP on their behalf.
Countering this, advocate Kapil Sibal, appearing for the Shiv Sena, said the Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress combine has affidavits from 154 MLAs, and the BJP should be asked to prove its majority on the floor of the Assembly within 24 hours.
The political imbroglio
The BJP had won 105 seats in the Maharashtra Assembly elections, the results of which were announced on October 24. The Shiv Sena, which was in an alliance with the BJP, won 56 seats. Despite having enough seats to form a government together, the two allies bickered over power-sharing – the chief minister’s post and Cabinet portfolios – resulting in the Shiv Sena starting negotiations with the ideologically different Congress and Nationalist Congress Party instead.
With no outcome in sight then, the Centre imposed President’s Rule in Maharashtra on November 12. The Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP continued negotiations to form an alliance, and on Friday evening, Sharad Pawar announced that Uddhav Thackeray had been unanimously chosen to head the new government. Thus, the oath taking ceremony of Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar early on Saturday came as a surprise.
The same day, the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and Congress filed a petition in the Supreme Court against Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari’s decision to invite the BJP to form the government. On Sunday, the Supreme Court asked for the letters of support on the basis of which the governor took action. After these letters were submitted to the court on Monday, it reserved its verdict in the case, for Tuesday morning.
Meanwhile, the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party and the Congress also staked claim to form the government in Maharashtra, claiming 162 MLAs were on their side.