Uddhav Thackeray will be Chief Minister of a Shiv Sena-Nationalist Congress Party-Congress alliance government in Maharashtra, NCP leader Sharad Pawar said after the first joint meeting of the three parties in Mumbai on Friday evening. The Sena chief has agreed to be chief minister, his party said later.
"We all have consensus on the name of Uddhav Thackeray as Chief Minister," said Sharad Pawar, emerging from the meeting at the Nehru Science Centre. Seconds later, Uddhav Thackeray came out with his son Aaditya and said: "Discussions were positive, fruitful."
All parties said talks would continue today but for now, it is almost certain that Maharashtra will have a Sena chief after 20 years.
State Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari cancelled his weekend trip to Delhi for a three-day conference and decided to stay in Mumbai, in a sign that the alliance is on track and may stake claim to power any time now.
The first Sena-NCP-Congress meeting took place more than a week after President's Rule was imposed in Maharashtra, after elections last month gave no party a majority.
Pre-poll allies BJP and Shiv Sena won a majority together with 105 and 56 seats in the 288-member assembly but split after a bitter power tussle. The Sena insisted that BJP president Amit Shah had agreed on rotational chief ministership but the BJP repeatedly denied it.
Even at the height of their acrimonious exchanges, most believed the two would eventually patch up. After all, the BJP-Sena partnership had weathered most vicious sparring over the past few years. This time, a determined Sena did the unthinkable - turning to the ideologically contrasting NCP and Congress for support.
Last Monday, the Sena ended its alliance with the BJP, its partner for over three decades, and also pulled out its lone minister in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government. Hours later, Uddhav Thackeray dialed Sonia Gandhi. The Congress president called back after his multiple calls and promised to get back to him.
Talks for an unlikely Sena-NCP-Congress combo in Maharashtra picked up pace after Sonia Gandhi finally gave her approval to partnering the ideologically incompatible Sena yesterday. It was politically expedient to keep the BJP out of power in India's financial hub, top Congress leaders reportedly advised their chief.
The architect of the coalition is Sharad Pawar, 79, whose viral image addressing a rally in Satara drenched in pouring rain became the story of this Maharashtra election.
Mr Pawar acted like the bridge between the Congress and the Sena and over the past two weeks, met Sonia Gandhi twice in Delhi.
As the Congress waffled on its decision, Mr Pawar's meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday, ostensibly on the farm crisis in Maharashtra, delivered a pointed message. So did reports that an offer of President of India had been dangled before the veteran leader.
Congress leaders met the NCP the same evening at Mr Pawar's home.
Mission accomplished, Mr Pawar reached Mumbai last evening, after which he had two visitors -- Uddhav Thackeray and Aaditya Thackeray.
The coalition driven by "anti-BJP-ism" appeared to be finally on track.
All three parties have agreed that the Sena will keep the chief minister's post for the full five-year term and there will be no rotational chief ministership.