No Truce With BJP Yet, Shiv Sena's Sanjay Raut Meets Sharad Pawar Again

Maharashtra Election Results: The BJP had on Tuesday said its door was "open 24 hours" to discuss a formula with the Shiv Sena but Devendra Fadnavis would be Chief Minister and that was non-negotiable.

Uddhav Thackeray raised the 50:50 arrangement with the BJP after the election results.

Mumbai:

Two days to the deadline for government formation in Maharashtra, a second meeting took place between Shiv Sena leader Sanjay Raut and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on Wednesday. Before the meeting, the Sena leader doubled down on the party's demand for the Chief Minister's post and said no new option would be discussed with ally BJP.

Mr Raut's meeting with Sharad Pawar signaled a ramp-up in political activity as Maharashtra stares at the possibility of President's Rule despite a clear majority for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance.

The NCP, while insisting that it has won a mandate to sit in opposition, has been key to the Sena's attempts to display numbers in its support.

"Pawar Sahab is a big leader of the nation, of Maharashtra, of everyone. He is also concerned that a government is not forming in the state. There's instability in the state...He showed that concern in the discussions. We have discussed a little. We'll think about further conversations later," Mr Raut said.
But the Sena's flirtation with the NCP-Congress alliance have hit a wall with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi reportedly ruling out supporting the Sena in a meeting with Mr Pawar in Delhi on Monday.

Under the circumstances, a meeting between Sonia Gandhi's top aide Ahmed Patel and Union Minister Nitin Gadkari of the BJP drew much attention, though the Congress leader said nothing political was discussed.

Nitin Gadkari, a senior BJP leader in Maharashtra, has emerged as a possible problem-solver in the standoff.

Over the weekend, Sena leader Kishore Tiwari wrote to Mohan Bhagwat, the chief of the BJP's ideological mentor Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), suggesting that Nitin Gadkari be asked to resolve the crisis.

Earlier today, the Shiv Sena made it clear it was not backing down on the "50:50 formula" it says was discussed with the BJP for rotational chief ministership and equal distribution of ministries. The BJP has rejected any talk of Devendra Fadnavis, its Chief Minister, sharing the post with the Sena.

Yesterday, the party said its door was "open 24 hours" to discuss anything with the Shiv Sena but chief ministership; Devendra Fadnavis would remain Chief Minister and that was non-negotiable, said a BJP leader.

"Our alliance was formed on the basis of an agreement over the chief minister's post. It was a one-line agreement that was decided before we fought elections together...why waste time talking of a new proposal," Sanjay Raut questioned, speaking to reporters.

"Talks will only be on the proposal that was already discussed. If there is President's Rule in Maharashtra, it will be unfair to the people. We will not be responsible for President's rule," Mr Raut said.

An editorial in the Shiv Sena mouthpiece Saamana said yesterday: "When the outgoing chief minister of Maharashtra lands in Mumbai after visiting Delhi which is witnessing worst smog, he will have to take some steps. The direction of Maharashtra (politics) will depend on the steps to be taken by Fadnavis."

The editorial referred to Mr Fadnavis's trip to Delhi to meet with BJP president Amit Shah and Mr Gadkari.

Mr Fadnavis also travelled to Nagpur to meet Mohan Bhagwat.

The BJP won 105 seats in the 288-member Maharashtra assembly and the Shiv Sena won 56. Their alliance is well past the majority mark of 145 but with the BJP's tally dropping from 122 in 2014, the Sena insists on an equal share in power.

The BJP says it has the support of 115 MLAs. The Sena claims it has the support of 63 along with independents.
After a meeting last evening at Chief Minister Fadnavis's house, senior leader and state minister Sudhir Mungantiwar hinted at a possible breakthrough, saying "good news" was expected any moment.

But another leader known to be close to Mr Fadnavis, Girish Mahajan, accused the Sena of failing to answer messages and said: "We are willing to consider any suggestion except for sharing the Chief Minister's post... We are even willing to come to Matoshree and meet Uddhav Thackeray to find a solution".

Highlights

  • Second meeting between Sanjay Raut and Sharad Pawar in a week
  • Sonia Gandhi reportedly ruled out backing Sena in meeting with Mr Pawar
  • Union Minister and BJP's Nitin Gadkari emerges as possible problem-solver
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