Of letter and spirit

Updated: 26 November, 2019 07:42 IST | Dharmendra Jore | Mumbai

The course of the state government in the next few days will be dictated by the legitimacy of the piece of paper Ajit Pawar gave the governor

Ajit Pawar leaving the Vidhan Bhavan on Monday. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Ajit Pawar leaving the Vidhan Bhavan on Monday. Pic/Suresh Karkera

A letter that Ajit Pawar had given Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari, pledging the support of 54 NCP MLAs to the BJP, has assumed all importance in deciding whether the two-member Devendra Fadnavis government will survive.

The letter was instrumental in the governor swearing in Fadnavis and Pawar in the wee hours of Saturday in a hush-hush and hurried ceremony at Raj Bhavan. The BJP and Ajit Pawar are confident the document will stand legal scrutiny and get the endorsement of the Supreme Court and the Speaker, whose role will be crucial in the coming days.

On the other hand, the spirited post-poll tri-party alliance of the Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP – which calls itself the Maha Vikas Aghadi – has asked Koshyari to invite it to form government when the BJP fails. The MVA argued that Ajit Pawar's letter has no legitimacy as he has been removed from the position of leader of the NCP legislative party, which means he has no formal power over the 54 MLAs.

NCP's Supriya Sule looks smug next to the figure of 162 flashing on a screen next to her at the show of strength at Hotel Grand Hyatt on Monday
NCP's Supriya Sule looks smug next to the figure of 162 flashing on a screen next to her at the show of strength at Hotel Grand Hyatt on Monday

The day's proceedings in the Supreme Court also revealed that the governor actually gave Fadnavis 14 days – and not seven as reported – to prove his majority. The court is expected to rule on Tuesday morning after verifying the documents, including the letter that Ajit Pawar gave Raj Bhavan. While NCP revised it list of its supporting MLAs and informed the governor's office that since it has replaced Ajit Pawar as the leader of the legislative party with Jayant Patil, the letter given earlier was invalid.

BJP leaders, however, insisted Ajit Pawar could still legitimately issue the party whip. "Ajit Dada remains the leader of NCP's legislative party," said Union minister Raosaheb Danve. "The BJP-NCP government is already formed and the whip will be binding on NCP legislators. If they don't vote as per Ajit Pawar's direction, they will be disqualified."

NCP boss Sharad Pawar had a strong response. "Our MLAs are being threatened that Ajit Pawar will issue a whip to vote for the BJP," he said. "Ajit has no right whatsoever to do so because he has gone against the party and has been removed as the legislative party leader. Those MLAs who fear they will lose their membership shouldn't worry because they are my individual responsibility. They have installed a government without having a majority. This isn't Goa but Maharashtra. We will not let anything wrong happen here."

MLAs from Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP along with their MLAs pledging support to the alliance. Pics/Rane Ashish
MLAs from Shiv Sena, Congress and NCP along with their MLAs pledging support to the alliance. Pics/Rane Ashish

On Monday, the MVA leaders handed Koshyari's secretary fresh documents signed by the three parties and claimed to have 162 MLAs, which while being more than the simple majority of 145 in the 288-member House, is 13 fewer than the 175 Sena's Sanjay Raut crowed about. Koshyari was not in town.

"The BJP will not be able to prove majority and go out because they don't have required numbers," said Sena's legislative party leader Eknath Shinde. "We have asked the governor to invite us for making the government once they are out of power." He said the coalition will produce 162 MLAs whenever told.

The NCP hasn't sacked Ajit for obvious reasons and continued to placate him in all possible ways on Monday. Several senior NCP leaders including Patil, Chhagan Bhujbal and Dilip Walse-Patil spent four hours with the deputy CM at the Vidhan Bhavan, but an adamant rebel stayed put. Ajit Pawar was seen with Fadnavis at the Vidhan Bhavan paying homage to Maharashtra's first CM Yashwantrao Chavan.

Fadnavis re-assumed the CM's office at Mantralaya by signing some files including a healthcare assistance relief cheque. He attended meetings and also announced a financial package of R5380 crore for rain-affected farmers from the state's contingency fund. However, Ajit Pawar did not take charge of the office, raising eyebrows. He returned to his Churchgate residence.

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First Published: 26 November, 2019 07:23 IST

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