- Sharad Pawar's call to Sonia Gandhi deepened her reluctance: sources
- Mr Pawar said it was too early to promise support to Shiv Sena
- He had not given letter of support to Sena yet, Mrs Gandhi was told
The Shiv Sena was hoping to stake claim to power in Maharashtra on Monday evening with the support of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress, which would raise its numbers to 154 in the assembly -- nine past the majority mark.
Among the factors which may have queered its pitch at the eleventh hour was a phone call between Congress president Sonia Gandhi and NCP leader Sharad Pawar.
Sources say Sonia Gandhi had softened on her objections to supporting the ideologically opposite Shiv Sena on Monday evening. But a well-timed phone call from Sharad Pawar to Sonia Gandhi appears to have deepened the Congress' reluctance.
In the morning, as the Congress kicked off a series of consultations on Maharashtra, Sonia Gandhi was said to be strongly opposed to supporting the Sena.
Her view - that aligning with the pro-Hindutva and hardline Sena would harm the Congress electorally - was said to be supported by party seniors like AK Antony and KC Venugopal, and Delhi-based Maharashtra leaders like Mukul Wasnik and Rajiv Satav.
A counterpoint was presented by Maharashtra Congress leaders like Sushil Kumar Shinde, Ashok Chavan, Prithviraj Chavan and Balasaheb Thorat, who believed it was wiser, under the circumstances, to back the Shiv Sena and keep the BJP out.
Some in that meeting believed the Congress president was coming around.
Around 5 pm on Monday, Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray in his first ever call to Sonia Gandhi, made a formal request for support. The Congress president promised to get back to him after her consultations.
But about an hour later, Sharad Pawar spoke to Sonia Gandhi and expressed some reluctance to go ahead, saying it was too early to promise support to the Sena.
Mr Pawar reportedly told Sonia Gandhi that many aspects of power sharing still needed to be negotiated, and that he had not given the Sena a letter of support.
Crucially, he mentioned that his party was just two seats short of the Sena. That seemed to indicate a rethink by the NCP on whether the Sena should expect the chief minister's post for a full term. Was Mr Pawar hinting at a power-sharing agreement, wondered Congress leaders who were privy to the developments.
This sequence of events runs contrary to the NCP's assertion that it was ready to offer support to the Sena, but the Congress had played spoilsport. As Ajit Pawar, NCP leader told the media, "From morning 10 am till 7:30 pm on Monday, our leaders including Sharad Pawar, Praful Patel were waiting for their letter. They (Shiv Sena) had to submit the letter by 7:30 pm. If Congress was not sending its letter of support, how could we give ours," Ajit Pawar disclosed.
The Congress however says Mr Pawar's seeming U-turn, which came just hours before the Governor's deadline to the Sena, only served to heighten the Congress's reluctance to support the Sena.
Finally, the Congress put out a noncommittal statement without mentioning the Sena at all, saying it would hold discussions with Sharad Pawar.
At the Raj Bhawan, the Sena delegation led by Aaditya Thackeray requested more time to bring NCP and Congress letters of support, but the governor refused.
Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari first asked the BJP, then Sena and finally the NCP, all within three days, before recommending President's Rule. Opposition parties have criticized the move, alleging that the governor rushed into the decision at the BJP's instance without exhausting all options.