Hours after the BJP's dramatic return to power in Maharashtra, the Shiv Sena and the Congress have moved to sequester their respective MLAs in an attempt to protect them from poaching. Sources within the Congress have said the party is planning to move its 44 MLAs out of the state and to neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, which is ruled by Congress Chief Minister Kamal Nath. The Sena, meanwhile, has moved 55 of its 56 MLAs to the luxurious Hotel Lalit in Navi Mumbai. They have also been ordered to surrender their mobile phones, Sena sources told news agency IANS.
Sources from both parties have said keeping their MLAs together would be crucial to defeating the BJP in a floor test that may be held on November 29.
"There is no chance our MLAs will break. We are ready to defeat the BJP in the floor test. We will work out a strategy soon. We will fight BJP forming government in Maharashtra on both fronts- politically and legally," Congress leader Ahmed Patel said today.
This is not the first time either party has guarded its MLAs in this fashion; earlier this month the Congress moved its MLAs to Rajasthan, another state where it is in power, and the Shiv Sena sent its MLAs to a hotel near party chief Uddhav Thackeray's home.
The Congress tried similar measures to guard its Karnataka MLAs in May. In the days after the Congress-JDS coalition fell, and after the BJP's BS Yeddyurappa was invited to form the government and given 15 days to prove his majority, the Congress rushed its MLAs to a golf resort near Bengaluru.
The BJP, which emerged from last month's election as the single-largest party but initially refused to form the government - because it did not have the numbers - sprung a massive surprise in the early hours of the day, with Devendra Fadnavis sworn in as Chief Minister and NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who is party chief Sharad Pawar's nephew, his deputy.
The move came mere hours after a tripartite meeting between the Sena, the Congress and the NCP appeared to all but confirm that three would form the next government.
Last month's election threw up a fractured mandate, with no party (or alliance) gaining a clear majority. The BJP, which had aligned with the Shiv Sena, claimed 105 seats; the Sena won 56. The opposition alliance - the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) - won 98 seats.
The majority mark in the 288-seat Assembly is 145, meaning that if the BJP does indeed have the support of the NCP it will have 159 seats and a clear majority.
However the hours following Devendra Fadnavis' swearing-in have seen a steady trickle of NCP MLAs, who had earlier appeared to support the BJP, return to the fold, suggesting the BJP may not have the numbers to pass the test unless it persuades at least 37 more opposition MLAs to cross the aisle in order to retain power in the state.
With input from ANI, IANS