BJP sources said it was bitterness with the Shiv Sena that drove the party to reach out to Ajit, NCP's legislative party leader.
By Liz Mathew & Ravish Tiwari
Behind the dramatic swearing-in ceremony early Saturday morning in Mumbai were discreet negotiations between the BJP’s top leadership and the NCP’s Ajit Pawar over the past few days.
BJP national president Amit Shah put on the job his most trusted lieutenant Bhupender Yadav, the party general secretary and in-charge of elections in Maharashtra.
BJP sources said it was bitterness with the Shiv Sena that drove the party to reach out to Ajit, NCP’s legislative party leader.
Even as NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray and Congress leaders held protracted talks, which went around in circles, the BJP operated quietly. It was after the three announced on Friday afternoon that they were close to a deal, that Shah rushed Yadav, who had been shuttling between Mumbai and Delhi, for the final round of negotiations.
BJP sources said Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit had already written to Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari by then saying they were ready to form the government. Ajit then met Koshyari personally to verify the letter sent by him. On 7 pm, Yadav reached Mumbai and met Fadnavis first and later Ajit, sealing the deal.
On hindsight, senior BJP leaders had dropped hints, maintaining till Friday evening that the BJP would “100 per cent” form the government in Maharashtra.
Party sources said the BJP began exploring the alternatives available to it soon after informing the Governor on November 10 that, without the Sena supporting it, it didn’t have the numbers to form a government. That was the first time Yadav arrived in Mumbai, for the state BJP core committee meeting, at Shah’s best.
On the face of it, the BJP kept its options open with the Sena till last week. According to a source, Shah’s instruction to the BJP Maharashtra leadership was to “let them (Thackeray, Pawar and Congress) play their game”, even as he maintained his distance — the apparent disinterest even drawing comment.
About their offer to Ajit, a BJP leader said, “Everyone knew that a stable government would be possible only with BJP. Why should Ajit Pawar be part of a hobbled government with three parties and no certainty of longevity when he could very well get the same thing in a stable government?” A meeting was also organised between Ajit and Shah to reassure that the move had the highest backing within the BJP.
On the Sena, sources said the way one of its oldest allies had pushed it hardened feelings within the BJP that it should not let Matoshree dictate terms. So, the fact that there would be a BJP CM for full five years was always non-negotiable, party leaders said.
For a while, the BJP backed on the Sena not pushing matters to the brink, and the Congress not taking the plunge to join hands with it. But when the two seemed to have overcome that hurdle, the BJP moved in for the kill. What aided their gambit was that by that time, Ajit had been elected legislative party leader of the NCP, giving him a hold over its MLAs.
Incidentally, with Ajit in position, the NCP had on November 12 curiously conveyed to the Governor that it did not have the numbers to form the government. This came just in time for the Governor to send a report to the Centre, before Prime Minister Narendra Modi headed out for the BRICS Summit in Brazil, putting President’s rule in motion.
Left scratching their heads, senior Congress leaders talked about their initial doubts over the NCP, about Sharad Pawar’s 40-minute-long meeting with Modi last week, and about Ajit going incommunicado for several hours during talks. “He was again missing a day before the talks shifted to New Delhi,” a Congress leader rued.