Sharad Pawar meets Sonia Gandhi today to firm up alliance’s stand on Shiv Sena move

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The NCP hasn’t indicated a stand on Sena’s reported offer yet, insisting that his party couldn’t take a call alone since it had contested the election in alliance with the Congress.

Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar is expected to meet Congress president Sonia Gandhi on Monday amid the ongoing tussle between the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Shiv Sena over government formation in Maharashtra. Pawar’s meeting with the Congress chief comes days after his meeting with Shiv Sena’s Sanjay Raut and a quick phone call from Sena boss Uddhav Thackeray.

Neither Shiv Sena nor Pawar have outlined the details of these conversations. But the Sena, which has been piling pressure on its alliance partner, the BJP, to cede the chief minister’s post, started claiming soon after that it would have the numbers to form the government if it wanted. “If Shiv Sena decides, it’ll get the required numbers to form a stable government in the state,’’ Sanjay Raut told reporters last week.

The NCP hasn’t indicated a stand on Sena’s reported offer yet, insisting that his party couldn’t take a call alone since it had contested the election in alliance with the Congress.

“Only one party can’t make the decision,” senior NCP leader Ajit Pawar told reporters over the weekend. But the NCP leader was cautious to signal that the party isn’t hankering for power and asserted that the NCP’s mandate in the elections is to sit in the opposition, not the treasury benches.

The Congress is adopting a wait and watch approach and wants the Sena to come up with something more concrete. Its leaders do not rule out supporting a non-BJP government in the state but there is a view within the party that the Sena was just trying to get a better deal from the BJP and may not go so far as to form a government outside the NDA.

The BJP won 105 seats and the Sena bagged 56 in the 288-member assembly. The opposition NCP has 54 seats while its alliance partner, the Congress, has 44. Independents and smaller parties together — including partners of both alliances — have 29 seats.

 

A section opposed to the idea has also argued that the Congress should not ally with the Shiv Sena, given their “huge ideological differences” and that any sort of tie-up will hurt the grand old party in other states.

Congress general secretary in-charge of Maharashtra Mallikarjun Kharge and former union home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde are among the leaders opposed to doing any business with the Shiv Sena.

Congress leaders such as former chief ministers Ashok Chavan and Prithiviraj Chavan, however, believe that the party should be open to extending outside support to an “alternative government” that could keep the BJP out of power.

 

Ashok Chavan and Prithiviraj Chavan, people familiar with the development said, want the Shiv Sena to formally break away from the BJP and then seek the Congress party’s support to form the government with a “concrete” proposal.

Former Mumbai Congress president Sanjay Nirupam, who did not campaign for the party in the assembly elections, has attacked party leaders pushing for extending the support to the Shiv Sena in government formation.

Nirupam said the ongoing tug of war between the BJP and the Shiv Sena was nothing but a “drama” and suggested the Congress should stay away from it. Before joining the Congress, Nirupam was associated with the Shiv Sena.

“It’s fake. It’s their temporary fight to grab more power share. They will be together again and will keep abusing us. How can some Congress leaders think of supporting Shiv Sena? Have they lost [it]?” he tweeted.

On Thursday, Maharashtra Congress president Balasaheb Thorat, Ashok Chavan and Prithviraj Chavan met Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar to discuss the issue and later left for Delhi to hold discussions with Gandhi.

The Shiv Sena has sought the chief minister’s post on a rotational basis and 50:50 division of portfolios but the BJP has refused to yield. The BJP has maintained that Devendra Fadnavis will continue to hold the chief minister’s post for the next five years.

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