Sharad Pawar reportedly told Sonia Gandhi that there was a need for more talks as Shiv Sena reached out
- Shiv Sena's plans to take power in Maharashtra on hold
- Congress chief Sonia Gandhi consultations with party MLAs
- She told Uddhav Thackeray she would get back to him
The Shiv Sena's plans to take power in Maharashtra after ending its alliance with long-term partner BJP are on hold with the Congress holding the key. Sharad Pawar's Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), invited yesterday by the Governor to form a government after the BJP and Shiv Sena failed to do so, also waited as Congress chief Sonia Gandhi held consultations long after telling Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray on the phone that she would get back to him. With no party appearing to be in a position to form a government weeks after the October 24 state election verdict, Maharashtra is staring at President's Rule.
Here are the latest developments in this big story:
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After a phone conversation between Sonia Gandhi and Sharad Pawar this morning, top Congress leaders are heading to Mumbai. Congress leader KC Venugopal, in a tweet, confirmed that Sonia Gandhi had dialled Sharad Pawar and that he, along with colleagues Ahmed Patel and Mallikarjun Kharge, would fly to Mumbai for talks with the NCP chief "at the earliest".
The Congress leaders had earlier put off their visit. NCP leader Ajit Pawar had told NDTV that his uncle Sharad Pawar had been asked to meet Sonia Gandhi in Delhi instead. Mr Pawar had declined, citing a meeting of NCP MLAs in Mumbai.
Though Congress MLAs in Maharashtra favour forming a government with the Sena, the party leadership, especially Sonia Gandhi, is extremely wary of a tie-up with such an ideologically different party, a traditional enemy and one with which it was in direct contest in Mumbai and many regions in Maharashtra in the polls.
Going for broke, the Shiv Sena yesterday pulled out its only minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government at the centre to signal its exit from the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA). The Sena's separation from the BJP was the NCP's prerequisite for talks between the Maharashtra rivals for a non-BJP alliance.
The NCP was ready with its letter of support to the Sena last evening but was left waiting by the Congress. "Whatever decision will be taken will be taken collectively, so we were waiting for Congress response yesterday but it didn't come, we can't decide on it alone. There is no misunderstanding, we are together. The Congress is taking time because we didn't contest with the Shiv Sena," said Ajit Pawar.
The Congress is also concerned that the Sena's divorce with the BJP, its partner of nearly 30 years, may not be permanent. That would put in doubt the sustainability of a Sena-NCP-Congress coalition government.
The Uddhav Thackeray-Sonia Gandhi phone call had fuelled reports that the Sena had won the Congress's support. But even as a Sena delegation met with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari, the Congress put out a non-committal statement saying there was no decision yet and it would talk to Sharad Pawar. The Sena was forced to ask the Governor for three more days, which was denied.
Sources say in their discussions yesterday, Sharad Pawar told Sonia Gandhi that there was a need for more talks on the contours of supporting the Sena. "NCP is just two seats short of Sena," Mr Pawar reportedly flagged, indicating a reassessment of the Sena's desire for a full term for its chief minister.
Caretaker Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP resigned on Friday. On Saturday, as the term of the Maharashtra legislative assembly ended without any resolution, Governor Koshyari invited the BJP to form government. But the BJP opted out of the race accusing the Sena of "betraying the people's mandate".
The BJP won 105 seats in the Maharashtra polls and the Sena 56, which placed them comfortably ahead of the majority mark of 145 in the 288-member assembly. But the allies fell out over the Sena's demand for rotational chief ministership, in a "50:50" deal it said was discussed with BJP chief Amit Shah. With the NCP's 54 seats and the Congress's 44, the Sena will have 154 MLAs on its side. Congress MLAs remain at a resort in Rajasthan's Jaipur as the leadership wants to avoid a repeat of Goa, where its members crossed over to the BJP.