The BJP's Devendra Fadnavis ended a dramatic 80-hour stint in his second term as Maharashtra Chief Minister on Tuesday, a day before he was to face a floor test ordered by the Supreme Court. Devendra Fadnavis resigned shortly after Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) leader Ajit Pawar quit as his deputy.
The Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance, which had staked claim to power last evening, may be invited soon to form government. Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray is the chief ministerial choice of the anti-BJP combine. Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari has called a special assembly session at 8 am for the oath-taking of newly elected MLAs.
The BJP, which won 105 seats in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, needed 40 MLAs to prove a majority. The party had banked on Ajit Pawar to bring in 54 NCP MLAs, but the gamble didn't work; hardly anyone followed "Ajit-Dada" and the "rebels" returned to the NCP over the past four days.
"Ajit Pawar gave me his resignation. He told me he was resigning because of personal reasons. BJP had decided from the first day we will not indulge in horse-trading. We only decided to form government because NCP was with us. Since he has resigned, we don't have the numbers. So I have also decided to resign," Mr Fadnavis told reporters.
"The BJP-Shiv Sena alliance had the people's mandate. We tried to form a government but the Shiv Sena realized it was a numbers game and we realized their bargaining power could increase," he said, going over the BJP-Sena break-up.
The resignations came hours after the Supreme Court ordered an "immediate" floor test, to be telecast live, so that Mr Fadnavis could prove his majority in the assembly. "If the floor test is delayed, there is a possibility of horse-trading, it becomes incumbent upon the Court to act to protect democratic values," said three judges.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, the two top leaders of the BJP, had met right after the Supreme Court verdict. They reportedly discussed the party's options in Maharashtra, whether Mr Fadnavis should quit or go through with a floor test that would be tough for the BJP to win.
A message from the leadership went to Mr Fadnavis after the meeting.
Mr Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in on Saturday, in a sudden oath ceremony at 7.50 am that was challenged in the Supreme Court as undemocratic and unconstitutional.
Ajit Pawar's overnight switch was key to the BJP's surprise comeback. He displayed confidence that he would have the support of all MLAs and also party chief Sharad Pawar, his uncle.
Subsequently, nearly all NCP MLAs appeared to return to the party fold and more than 50 also participated in a show of strength at a five-star hotel in Mumbai last evening. The Sena-NCP-Congress alliance claimed the support of 162 MLAs. It became increasingly apparent that the Ajit Pawar was isolated within his own party and that the BJP may not have enough MLAs after all.
Yesterday, Mr Fadnavis formally assumed charge, signed a relief cheque and also held the first meeting of his new term. But Ajit Pawar did not officially join. He was also missing from the Chief Minister's meeting last evening and he skipped a memorial for 26/11 martyrs this morning.
His absence led to speculation that he was having second thoughts after sustained, unrelenting efforts by NCP leaders including Sharad Pawar to persuade him to quit the government and return.
Before quitting, he met with Mr Fadnavis for an hour and reportedly told him he could not continue anymore.