After rebel leader Eknath Shinde delivered a googly that stumped Uddhav Thackeray, BJP's Devendra Fadnavis backed it up with a 'doosra' after staking claim to form the next government -- Mr Shinde will be the Chief Minister. And then came another surprise -- this one just hours later -- as Mr Fadnavis went from saying he will not be a part of the new government to taking oath as deputy to Eknath Shinde.
Speculation was that Mr Fadnavis would take the top post in the alliance -- BJP is the single largest party in the assembly -- and Mr Shinde would be his deputy.
The move to give Eknath Shinde the chair is another tough one to counter for Uddhav Thackeray, who had rhetorically asked the rebels if the BJP would make one of them the chief minister.
Mr Fadnavis, who was chief minister in the previous BJP-Shiv Sena government, briefly held the post even when the Sena broke away after the 2019 polls. But he lost it in less than a week after Ajit Pawar's breakaway NCP faction went back to uncle Sharad Pawar's fold. The turn of events embarrassed Mr Fadnavis and the BJP; and fed the internet with viral memes.
Now, he was widely expected to take the top post as he was seen as a driving force behind Uddhav Thackeray's unseating. But he said after meeting the Governor today, "We are not working for the post of CM; this is a fight of ideologies," and declared that Eknath Shinde will be the chief minister.
This was a couple of hours before the swearing-in around 7.30 pm, when Mr Fadnavis also took oath. He had earlier said, "Only Mr Shinde will take oath for now, and the ministers will be chosen and sworn in later. I will not be a part of the government but extend my full support to him."
At that interaction with reporters, Mr Fadnavis accused Uddhav Thackeray of having gone against the original mandate in 2019 and "daily insulting Hindutva". "The BJP-Shiv Sena pre-poll alliance won 161 seats [in a House of 288], and it was expected that the coalition would form the government. But Uddhav Thackeray went against the wishes of the people," he said.
"On the last day [of Uddhav Thackeray's government], they renamed Aurangabad as Sambhajinagar. But once you receive Governor's letter [asking to prove majority], you should not hold any cabinet meeting," he said.
He also accused Uddhav Thackeray of partnering with those who help gangsters and insult Hindutva icons. "On the one hand, Shiv Sena opposed Dawood (Ibrahim); on the other, they kept such a man in the cabinet who went to jail on allegations of helping Dawood. They were in alliance with someone who insulted Savarkar."
His references were to the Sena's partners in the Maha Vikas Aghadi government. NCP's Nawab Malik has been accused of "links with Dawood Ibrahim" by the Enforcement Directorate in a money-laundering case. And VD Savarkar, considered one of the first proponents of Hindutva as an ideology, has repeatedly been called a "traitor" by Congress leaders for his conduct during the freedom struggle.