The ruling BJP conceded today that a "50:50" formula of rotational chief ministership in Maharashtra had been discussed with the Shiv Sena earlier this year, hours after its Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said that no such formula had been considered. Mr Fadnavis, 49, said he would be Chief Minister of Maharashtra for a full term and no plan to split the five-year term was agreed upon with the Sena, which is demanding an equal share of power after state polls. "There is no doubt in my mind that I will be Chief Minister for five years," he told reporters.
It was BJP president Amit Shah, he said, who had indicated to him that no such formula had been discussed.
Hours later, as the BJP acknowledged the formula, Mr Fadnavis said if there had been such a discussion between Amit Shah and Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray, he had not been present.
The Sena's Sanjay Raut delivered an instant retort. "If Devendra Fadnavis thinks he has the support of145 MLAs (majority mark in the 288-member assembly), he can go ahead and form the government," he challenged.
"I do not know what the Chief Minister has said. If he is saying that the '50-50 formula' was never discussed, then I think we need to change the definition of the truth," Mr Raut told news agency ANI.
Despite the vitriolic exchanges, Mr Fadnavis rubbished any long-lasting rift. He however said the top BJP leadership was upset with Sanjay Raut's attacks and was "personally hurt" even though he was used to it.
The only Chief Minister to complete a full five year term in Maharashtra in over 50 years, he asserted that neither BJP nor the Shiv Sena was exploring other options. "We don't need a plan B," he said.
In last week's Maharashtra election, the BJP won 105 seats and the Shiv Sena 56. Together, the two have 161 seats, way past the half-way mark of 144, but with the BJP emerging as dependent for a majority, the Sena has set its terms.
Soon after the election results, Uddhav Thackeray said: "Before the Lok Sabha elections, Amitbhai (Amit Shah) had come to my house, and we had sat together and decided on a formula. Now the time has come to implement that formula."
The BJP has stressed that Mr Fadnavis will remain Chief Minister for the entire term and there is no plan to hand over the post to the Sena midway. It is widely believed the Sena wants Uddhav Thackeray's son Aaditya Thackeray to do a stint as chief minister.
The feud between the long-time allies has been marked by daily reminders from the Sena in the form of digs, attacks and pungent editorials in the Sena mouthpiece Saamna.
"The Saamna derails talks," Mr Fadnavis said, confirming that the publication's editor Sanjay Raut had upset many BJP leaders.
"We don't give Sanjay Raut importance but people wonder why they fight elections together and then say such things," said the Chief Minister.
Yesterday, Mr Raut had gone as far as to warn the BJP, "Don't compel us to commit the sin of tying up with the NCP (Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party) and Congress". This was based on reports that the NCP and the Congress were ready to back the Sena to keep the BJP out of power. Today the Congress said if the Sena came to it with a proposal it would be placed before the party high command to take a call and added that no proposal had come from the Shiv Sena.
Mr Fadnavis, in response, remarked: "Sharad Pawar hasn't said he will support Shiv Sena. Everybody has made their position clear."