- Congress not backing Sena for now, Sharad Pawar indicated
- "The numbers right now are not with us," he said
- He insisted people's mandate is for him to sit in opposition
Opposition stalwart Sharad Pawar's attempts to persuade the Congress to accept a formula in which his Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress back the Shiv Sena in forming government in Maharashtra to block the BJP, does not appear to have made much headway.
The 79-year-old NCP chief, said to be in favour of such a formula, met Congress president Sonia Gandhi in Delhi. But the Congress is not on board for now, Sharad Pawar indicated.
"We decided to meet again...The mood of the people is against the BJP, not favourable to the BJP," Mr Pawar told reporters.
On the possibility of an arrangement between the Sena, NCP and Congress, he admitted: "The numbers right now are not with us...The BJP and their supporters have numbers. The onus to form government is with them. We are watching."
Government formation remains on hold in Maharashtra, 11 days after election results gave a clear majority to the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.
Talk of political shape-shifting gained traction with the Shiv Sena making it clear it will not give up on its demand for equal status as ally BJP, including rotational chief ministership and the same number of ministries.
The "50:50 formula" was raised by Sena Chief Uddhav Thackeray soon after the Maharashtra results on October 24. He sought to remind the BJP that this was discussed with its president Amit Shah earlier this year, before the national election.
Sharad Pawar insists that the people's mandate is for him to sit in opposition, but he has been busy. Sonia Gandhi is believed to be dead set against any alliance with the Shiv Sena, and this is where Mr Pawar comes in. Congress leaders in Maharashtra are reportedly willing to back the Sena, which, they believe is the "lesser evil" compared to the BJP.
For the Congress leadership however, Mr Pawar has been an unknown quantity; his moves in the past have helped the BJP in Maharashtra as well as in parliament.
Mr Pawar, asked whether the Sena was using his party in a "bargaining game", said: "I don't think so. The game is serious. How it will finish, I don't know."
Top BJP sources reasserted that there would be no compromise on the chief minister's post and that Devendra Fadnavis would continue as Chief Minister for a full five-year term. "We are waiting and watching. Our doors are open to discussions with Shiv Sena," sources said.
The BJP hopes for a resolution by November 8, the deadline for government formation.
Nervous about losing the Sena to the NCP and Congress, BJP sources say the party can offer the Sena half the ministries.
The question is whether the BJP's compromise will be acceptable to the Sena or whether it will let the power tussle run its course.
Sources say Uddhav Thackeray is upset with the BJP and accuses Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of "lying" when he denies any 50:50 deal. The Sena is also furious at the BJP for reportedly not making any overture till now.
Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut, who has been the party's chief striker against the BJP in the standoff, met with Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari this evening in Mumbai, around the same time Sharad Pawar and Sonia Gandhi held discussions in Delhi.
"We said we are not responsible for the confusion. We are not stalling government formation. Whoever has the majority will form government," Mr Raut told reporters.
The BJP, which won 105 seats in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly, says it has the support of 115 MLAs. The Shiv Sena won 56 but says it has the support of 63 along with independents.
The opposition NCP, Congress and others have 102 seats.
The Sena claims it has the support of 170 MLAs but it has not revealed a break-up.
Sanjay Raut has reportedly been in touch with Mr Pawar; he had met with him last week in what he described as a "courtesy visit".
NCP leader Ajit Pawar, the nephew of the party chief, claimed that he had received a message from Mr Raut: "Namaskar mi Sanjay Raut. Jai Maharashtra".