With just a day to the deadline for government formation in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena moved its MLAs to a hotel in Mumbai amid reports that a faction could break away to support its ally BJP. Talk of defections from the Sena gained more ground as the BJP met with Governor Bhagar Singh Koshyari.
"Our MLAs are committed to the party and do not need sequestering to keep them from defecting. No party will break in Maharashtra," Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut said earlier today, rubbishing the reports.
"No one can dare to come near Shiv Sena MLAs. Our MLAs are firm in their resolve and committed to the party. Those who are spreading such rumours should worry about their MLAs first," Sanjay Raut told reporters.
But in the afternoon, Sena MLAs were seen entering Rangsharda, a hotel just a few minutes away from Matoshree, party chief Uddhav Thackeray's home. The MLAs may stay there for a couple of days, it was reportedly decided after a meeting at Matoshree.
"It is necessary for all the MLAs to be together in the prevailing situation. Whatever decision Uddhav ji takes will be binding on all of us," Sena MLA Sunil Prabhu said.
Maharashtra will go into President's Rule if no government is in place by tomorrow, before the state assembly's term ends.
Yesterday, a BJP leader close to Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, Sudhir Mungantiwar, had talked about "good news" and said that the "Mahayuti" (BJP-Shiv Sena alliance) would come to power, no matter what.
This was followed by reports that a section of the Sena's 56 MLAs was in talks to break away and back the BJP, which has 105 MLAs. Together, the two parties (161) won a clear majority in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly but the alliance hit a rough patch over the Sena's demand for a "50:50 partnership" that includes rotational chief ministership. The BJP's Devendra Fadnavis, eyeing a second full term in power, has rejected it.
"We will get good news from Mungantiwar himself that Maharashtra will get Shiv Sena Chief Minister," Mr Raut said, repeating that his party would form the Maharashtra government with its own Chief Minister.
Mr Raut claims the support of over 170 MLAs but has not specified how. The Sena's perceived attempts to get the support of the rival Nationalist Congress Party (NCP)-Congress alliance didn't produce results with Congress President Sonia Gandhi's refusal to consider any truck with the long-term BJP ally.
With time running out before the Maharashtra assembly's term ends on Saturday, the Sena MP said: "There is no deadlock from Shiv Sena. We don't carry any locks or keys. We only have one key and that is truth."
Amid tense negotiations, Union Minister Nitin Gadkari said the BJP would win the Sena's support and form government. "Devendra Fadnavis is the choice and he should lead the government. The BJP won 105 seats so the Chief Minister should be from the BJP," Mr Gadkari said.