Floor Test Tomorrow, Thackeray Dials Pawar, He Calls Ajit

Uddhav Thackeray, the 57-year-old and claimant for the job of Maharashtra Chief Minister reportedly has 12 stents in his heart after a major surgery in 2016. Thackeray, who heads the Shiv Sena, has been largely sleepless in Mumbai for nearly 72 hours. His worried wife Rashmi and sons Aaditya, newly-minted MLA from Worli, and Tejas are hoping that Thackeray will take a nap after the Supreme Court ordered today that a floor test for rival Devendra Fadnavis must be completed tomorrow by 5 pm.

Wishful thinking for the family. The judges rejected the BJP's argument that there is no need to rush a floor test. Thackeray is now busy trying to ensure that his combo with Sharad Pawar and the Congress bests the BJP in tomorrow's test of strength in the Maharashtra legislature.

After the Supreme Court today agreed with virtually every contention of the anti-BJP combine, a jubilant Thackeray called Sharad Pawar, who is 79 and the head of the NCP, for a strategy session. Both have decided to jointly address the corralled camps of their MLAs (last evening, they produced 162 MLAs at a hotel to prove they can, with the Congress, win the right to govern Maharashtra).

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The Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress gathered their MLAs at a five-star hotel in Mumbai yesterday for a show of strength

The Congress, which had to overcome internal objections to partner with the Sena, has provided legal muscle in the shape of senior counsels Kapil Sibal and Abhishek Manu Singhvi who argued the combine's case in the Supreme Court. The party will send senior leaders Ahmed Patel and Mallikarjun Kharge by this evening to Mumbai to ensure the Congress flock of 44 MLAs stays together.

This morning, Patel rushed to Sonia Gandhi, currently head of the Congress, to give her the news in the Lok Sabha of the floor test. The Shiv Sena's MPs then joined joined a protest led by Sonia Gandhi - possibly a historic first for two parties whose ideology is dramatically divergent.

What the Congress and the Sena are watching out for is the enigma that is Sharad Pawar. He claims that nephew Ajit Pawar acted as a lone agent in formally committing their party's 54 MLAs to the BJP. Politicians of all colours are trying to figure out whether the split between the Pawars is for real or a carefully orchestrated façade to team with the BJP to gain power.

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Ajit Pawar's decision to support BJP his "personal decision, not that of NCP's", his uncle Sharad Pawar had said (File photo)

"Will he (Pawar Sr) still pull a surprise? Will he flip and help the BJP? When it is Pawar, his own right hand won't know what the left is doing" a senior Congress leader told me.

Maharashtra has 288 legislators in total. To win the right to form the government, 145 legislators are needed. The BJP alone has 105; the Congress 44; and Pawar's party has 54.

Maharashtra is not just the richest state in the country but it also elects the second-largest contingent of Lok Sabha MPs - 48. (Uttar Pradesh picks 80 MPs).

Pawar, after the court verdict today, phoned renegade nephew Ajit to urge him to return to the fold. Pawar told him that the BJP has "made a fool of him" but if "Dada" returns now, all will be forgiven.

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BJP's Devendra Fadnavis took oath as Maharashtra Chief Minister on Saturday

Ajit had counted on NCP legislators backing him in (a) rejecting a partnership with the Sena whose values clash with those of their party (b) craving power enough to abandon Sharad Pawar and his stated plans.

A Sena leader told me "We are keeping a watch on the BJP and are ready to give them the 'Sena treatment' (beating up so they don't stray) but we are also watching the NCP".

The Sena has sequestered all its MLAs in Mumbai five-stars. Most of the hotel unions are affiliated to the Sena. The airport union is also controlled by Sena and it has given union members pictures of its own MLAs as also those of the NCP and the Congress in case any of them decide to wander.

Despite the huge loss of face that the BJP has accrued with the Supreme Court order, its camp is still oozing confidence. Ask them why and their response is "Amit Shah". The Maharashtra BJP is still convinced that they can pull off a victory with the NCP. "Mumbai is not Bangalore", they brag, referring to the episode last year when BS Yediyurappa of the BJP resigned rather than taking a floor test that he was bound to lose.

As room service bills escalate for four parties, the last word is this Congress leader's: "Pawar is back but whichever way he goes power will follow".

(Swati Chaturvedi is an author and a journalist who has worked with The Indian Express, The Statesman and The Hindustan Times.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.