The BJP's alliance partner Shiv Sena has escalated their power tussle - on for 10 days since the Maharashtra election results - with the claim that the party will soon have its Chief Minister with the support of 170 MLAs. Sena MP Sanjay Raut plans to meet the state governor this evening, reportedly to ask him to invite the single largest party to form government. The BJP's Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis is in Delhi for discussions with party chief and Home Minister Amit Shah.
"There are no backdoor discussions. There is a deadlock and we are not responsible for it. BJP being the single largest party should claim to form government first... but if they fail, we can stake claim," Sanjay Raut told reporters on Sunday.
This will be the Shiv Sena's third meeting with Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari since the Maharashtra election results on October 24.
The BJP won 105 seats in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly and the Sena won 56. The alliance is comfortably past the majority mark of 145, but the Sena has held out, demanding an equal "50:50" share in power, including a Chief Minister from each party by rotation. This, according to Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, was discussed with Amit Shah before the national elections in May.
The BJP and Mr Fadnavis have rejected the demand.
The Sena leader's claim in the party's mouthpiece Saamana on Sunday that it has the backing of 170 MLAs, was seen to be based on the possibility of a major reconfiguration of alliances, with the party reaching out to rivals Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) of Sharad Pawar and the Congress.
Sharad Pawar is expected to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi this evening amid reports that Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray spoke on the phone with him last week.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar, the nephew of the party chief, claimed that he had received a message from Shiv Sena MP Sanjay Raut: "Namaskar mi Sanjay Raut. Jai Maharashtra".
"This is the first time after elections that he has contacted me. I do not know why he messaged me. I will call him in a while to check," said Ajit Pawar, a former deputy chief minister.
The NCP has asserted more than once that it has the mandate for sitting in the opposition and that is what it intends to do.
Mr Pawar said he was "unaware" of how the Sena had arrived at the "170" number.
"The Congress-NCP and other allies have a strength of 110 seats (which includes Congress's 44 and NCP's 54). And we have the mandate to be in the opposition," Mr Pawar said.
He also dismissed speculation that his party chief and uncle Sharad Pawar was in the race for the post of Maharashtra Chief Minister.
Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP, eyeing a second full five-year term - instead of a half-term as suggested by the Sena -- said he was confident that the standoff would end soon and a new government would be in place. The term of the current assembly ends on November 8.
As their tug-of-war rages, Mr Fadnavis and Uddhav Thackeray are separately touring areas hit by unseasonal rains in the state.
In the Saamna editorial, Sanjay Raut also said the situation wouldn't have worsened if the Chief Minister had visited Mr Thackeray's home "with a large heart" and begun talks soon after the poll results were announced.
"Despite (BJP, Sena) contesting in an alliance and getting the mandate for government formation, the wheel of the chariot is stuck in the mud of arrogance," the Rajya Sabha MP wrote.
He told reporters that talks with the BJP would take place only on the Chief Minister's post.
"The impasse continues. There is no discussion on government formation as yet. If talks happen, it will only be on the issue of the Chief Minister's post," Mr Raut said.
He also alleged that criminal elements and government agencies were being used to coerce newly-elected MLAs for support.