Putting an end to speculation over its participation in the BJP-led government in Maharashtra, Shiv Sena decided to sit in the Opposition, a day after serving an ultimatum to BJP to come clear within two days on taking NCP support for survival of its minority dispensation.
The sudden move came on a day when NCP chief Sharad Pawar reiterated his party’s decision to extend outside support to the Devendra Fadnavis government during the crucial trust vote on November 12.
A letter from Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray seeking the post of Leader of Opposition for its Legislature Party leader Eknath Shinde was delivered to the state Assembly Secretary Anant Kalse, party spokesperson Neelam Gorhe told reporters.
“A letter written by our President Uddhav Thackeray was submitted to Anant Kalse informing him that Eknath Shinde has been appointed as the leader of the Shiv Sena Legislature Party.
“Since we are the second largest party in the House with 63 MLAs, it is appropriate to appoint our leader as Leader of Opposition. We expect Shinde’s name to be announced as early as possible,” she said.
After boycotting the first expansion of the Union Council of Ministers and recalling Rajya Sabha member Anil Desai, who too was to be sworn-in as a minister yesterday, from Delhi airport, Uddhav had last evening served an ultimatum to BJP asking it to make clear its stand on taking NCP’s support to bail out the government in Maharashtra.
“If we don’t get a satisfactory answer (from BJP) in next two days, we will sit in Opposition,” Uddhav had said last evening after a meeting of party legislators where he appointed Shinde as their leader.
As Pawar, whose party has 41 MLAs in the Assembly, held forth on the reason for extending outside support to the Fadnavis government at a news conference, Sena, apparently peeved at lack of response from BJP to its ultimatum, made up its mind to occupy the space of the main Opposition party.
BJP, following promise of NCP’s support, reacted to Sena’s move with self-assurance, saying, “It is their right” and “who had asked them to join government?”
“Since they have got the largest number of seats among Opposition parties, it is their right to have the Leader of Opposition’s post. We extend them our best wishes,” Revenue Minister Eknath Khadse told reporters.
When asked how BJP with 121 MLAs will be able to prove a majority in the House which has an effective strength of 287, Khadse said, “We can’t reveal our strategy, but you will see on Wednesday we will win a comfortable majority and run the state comfortably.”
“There are several options. Many people have met and said they will vote for us… be with us,” he said.
Pawar told a press conference that the decision to back the minority government was “conscious and collective” and not part of a “hidden deal” with BJP.
“We have not discussed our decision with any one. It was a conscious and collective decision in the larger interest of the state. Nobody asked us for our support. BJP is free to not accept our support,” he said.
Pawar said since Congress and NCP were not in a position to provide an alternative government, the only way to avoid a fresh poll was to back the BJP dispensation.
“The number game is such that there is no (possibility of) alternative arrangement. We don’t want the state to go for another election immediately,” he said.
Rubbishing suggestions that NCP had lent unconditional outside support to the BJP government as part of a “hidden deal”, Pawar said, “The government is free to investigate all the charges and allegations against NCP leaders so the truth can come out. If its decisions or bills are not people oriented, we will not support the government.”
“Even though NCP will not destabilise the government, it will play the role of an effective Opposition,” he said.
However, the wily Maratha leader appeared to put a question mark on the longevity of the BJP government when he said he had never claimed it will last its full term.
“I never said this government would last for 5 years,” he said, replying to a query, adding, “we will be a formidable opposition.”
41-member NCP holds key to the survival of the Devendra Fadnavis government. With the 63-member Shiv Sena deciding to sit in the opposition, the minority Fadnavis dispensation can win the trust vote with the help of either active voting by NCP or through abstention.
BJP has 121 MLAs in the Assembly with effective strength of 287, still 24 short of a majority. With the help of 7 independents and few others from smaller parties, it can reduce the gap but cannot bridge it completely.
Several attempts were made by leaders of BJP and Shiv Sena over the last few days for a rapprochement between the two Hindutva fellow travellers but finally all came to a nought.
Uddhav’s last-minute arrival at the swearing-in ceremony of the Fadnavis government had revived hopes of a reunion but the two parties could not iron out their differences over Sena’s demand for Deputy Chief Minister’s post and a substantial share in the ministerial pie and key portfolios.
It is not clear yet whether Sena will pull out its lone member Anant Geete from the Union Cabinet and sit in Opposition in Lok Sabha too.
The two parties have been sharing power in the cash-rich Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation for a log time and there is still no clarity on whether they will continue their alliance in the civic body or part ways.