Maharashtra midnight stunner : It’s Fadnavis, not Thackeray

Mumbai: In a dramatic turn of events, the BJP turned the table on its rivals when a faction of NCP politicians broke away under the leadership of Ajit Pawar and formed government in Maharashtra with Devendra Fadnavis as Chief Minister.

This is a major twist, since NCP chief Sharad Pawar had only on Friday announced that Sena leader Uddhav Thackeray would be the Chief Minister in the state, with support from both the NCP and the Congress. But clearly, the BJP had something else in mind.

When people in Maharashtra went to sleep on Friday night, they knew Uddhav Thackeray was likely to be their next Chief Minister with the NCP and Congress supporting him.

After all, after days of hectic parleys his party was on the verge of ironing out an agreement with the Congress and NCP, an agreement that would pave the way for government formation with Shiv Sena at the helm, and more importantly, the BJP out of power. On Saturday, the three parties were to meet again and finalise their deal.

Hidden under the cloud of these talks was another deal taking shape, albeit with utmost secrecy. It all started on Friday afternoon.

While the entire media’s focus was on Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress, Ajit Pawar, Pawar’s nephew, approached the Governor with signed letters from all 54 of NCP’s winning candidates, extending support to the BJP.

Later in the night, Fadnavis quietly met the Governor and staked claim to form the government, along with the support of the NCP MLAs.

Around midnight, the Governor informed the Centre, and through it the Rashtrapati Bhavan, of the latest developments in Maharashtra. At 5.47am on Saturday, the Centre lifted the President’s rule that had been imposed in Maharashtra on November 12.

This decision was apparently taken without a Cabinet meeting. It is reported that the Prime Minister invoked Rule 12 of government’s transaction of business to go ahead with this decision. The rule gives the PM special powers to bypass the need for Cabinet’s recommendation.

At 5.47am when President’s Rule was lifted, no one knew about it. Headlines in the Saturday edition of most newspapers announced that Uddhav Thackeray was set to become Maharashtra’s Chief Minister.

But around 7.30 am, news flashed saying Devendra Fadnavis had taken oath as Maharashtra’s Chief Minister at the Raj Bhavan. Not just this, NCP’s Ajit Pawar too had taken oath as the Deputy CM.

Ajit Pawar had managed to ensure that 10-12 NCP MLAs attended his oath-taking ceremony.At first, for many this appeared unbelievable. But soon the confusion petered, and it became clear that the BJP had outsmarted Uddhav Thackeray and his supporters.

Ajit Pawar had recently been elected as NCP’s legislative party leader in the Assembly. Sources said that while his uncle Sharad Pawar was ironing a deal with the Shiv Sena and Congress, Ajit Pawar prepared a letter of support that had signs of all 54 NCP MLAs.

This letter was apparently to be used to ink the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress alliance. Sources said it had been prepared in advance and had two blank spaces-one for the name of the party that the NCP would be supporting and the other for the name of the Chief Minister.

The NCP has now alleged that Ajit Pawar misused this letter to extend support to the BJP by filling the blank spaces in the signed letter without consulting NCP MLAs and party president Sharad Pawar.