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Sena talks sweet, backs BJP for CM's post, favours coalition

Mumbai: As BJP prepared to elect the leader of its legislature party tomorrow who will be the party's first Chief Minister of Maharashtra, Shiv Sena today appeared resigned to backing it in government formation but there was no clarity yet on whether it will join the ministry.

The newly elected BJP MLAs will meet here at 11 am tomorrow in the presence of Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and party's general secretary in-charge of the state J P Nadda to elect their leader. "After the legislature party leader is elected, we will call on Governor C Vidyasagar Rao and stake claim to form government tomorrow itself," BJP general secretary Rajiv Pratap Rudy told PTI.

State BJP president Devendra Fadnavis, 44, is being seen as clear favourite for Chief Minister's post. According to party sources, the new government will be sworn in on October 31 in the presence of top central leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, several of his Cabinet colleagues and BJP Chief Ministers.

Speaking openly in favour of a BJP-led coalition government for the first time, senior Sena leader and spokesman Sanjay Raut said it will be a "stable" dispensation. "If Shiv Sena and BJP come together to form a government it will be stable. Our ties with BJP are very old.

Whatever happened during the election we have have forgotten. Ours is not like an India-Pakistan fight. "The people have given mandate to BJP. It has got more seats. It is our duty (to lend support to BJP). Sena's support will always be there for a Chief Minister who works in the interest of Maharashtra," he said.

Though back channel talks were on between the leaders of the two parties which had parted ways just before the poll following failure of seat-sharing talks, there was no clarity yet on whether Sena will be part of the government or support it from outside. Sharad Pawar's NCP, with 41 MLAs, has already offered unconditional outside support to BJP, which has 121 MLAs and pre-poll ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha one in the 288-member Assembly, in its bid to form government.

Making things easier for BJP further, the party made it clear that it will bail out the new government during the trust vote if Shiv Sena does not join it. "If Shiv Sena joins the government, there will be no problem. We will not be part of the government but do not want to create instability by voting against a minority government.

So, NCP will abstain, if there is voting," party spokesman Nawab Malik told PTI. NCP would like to honour the people's mandate which is in favour of BJP, the single largest party, he said.

BJP had won 122 seats in the poll, but its newly elected MLA from Mukhed Govind Rathod died of heart attack. Seven independents and some others from smaller parties are also likely to back BJP during the floor test.

The new government is expected to easily sail through the trust vote if NCP abstains from voting even if 63-member Shiv
Sena decides to occupy opposition's space with Congress which has 42 MLAs in the Assembly whose effective strength has been reduced to 287 following the demise of BJP's Rathod.

Amid back channel talks with Sena, BJP general secretary Rajiv Pratap Rudy said with people's mandate behind the party "it is desirable to have an unconditional alliance". Party sources said many in BJP were peeved over personal attacks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi and party president Amit Shah by Sena leaders, including its chief Uddhav Thackeray, during the election campaign.

They wanted BJP to either form the government on its own with NCP's support from outside or Sena entering into a coalition without any pre-condition. With Rajnath Singh, a former BJP president, who enjoys good rapport with Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, in town tomorrow, there is a possibility of the two leaders meeting to resolve the issues.

Indicating a softening of stand, Shiv Sena had sent its MPs to the high tea hosted by the Prime Minister for NDA MPs in Delhi last evening. However, Uddhav and Modi had not met when the latter was here on Saturday for inauguration of a
refurbished private hospital. Meanwhile, though Fadnavis, BJP's young face in Maharashtra with clean image, is said to have the backing of both Modi and Shah for chief ministership, Leader of the Opposition in the outgoing Assembly Eknath Khadse too appeared to have thrown his hat into the ring but said he will accept the decision taken by the Parliamentary Board.

"Leaders from all regions barring northern Maharashtra have become chief ministers. Northern Maharashtra has been backing BJP for a long time and has done so again. There is a feeling among the people that someone from there becomes CM," he told a TV news channel. Khadse, the tallest BJP leader from the region, however, maintained that this should not be seen as a sign of "groupism" in the party.

"Rajnath Singh will meet the MLAs and convey their views (on who should be the CM) to the Parliamentary Board. I will abide by whatever decision it takes," he said. MLAs from Vidarbha led by former state BJP chief Sudhir Mungantiwar have been pitching for Union Transport and Highways Minister Nitin Gadkari for the job. Gadkari himself has, however, been insisting that he wanted to continue working in Delhi. Both Gadkari and Fadnavis are from Nagpur.

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