Sharad Pawar, Sonia Gandhi talks to determine Congress will support non-BJP formulation from inside or not

Mumbai: After the Shiv Sena indicated that it is in no mood to indulge the BJP, a new proposal has been put forth to garner the support of the NCP and the Congress.

As per this proposal, Shiv Sena supremo Uddhav Thackeray will be the Chief Minister and Ajit Pawar and Balasaheb Thorat will the Deputy Chief Ministers.

The rationale behind such an omnibus ministry is to ensure the inclusion of both the NCP and the Congress in the government, which in turn will ensure its longevity.

Incidentally, both Sharad Pawar and Devendra Fadnavis will be in New Delhi on Monday. With that, the negotiations will move into a delicate trajectory; while Pawar is expected to hold discussions with Congress President Sonia Gandhi, Fadnavis is scheduled to meet BJP National President Amit Shah.

A non-BJP formulation with the NCP and the Congress’ collaboration looks a distinct possibility. "A leader from the Shiv Sena will soon take oath as Chief Minister," said party leader Sanjay Raut on Sunday, with a degree of certainty.

He also hinted that the party may stake claim in the next two days, by virtue of being the largest post-poll grouping. Since Aaditya Thackeray is raw, young and a first-time legislator, he may not be nominated as Chief Minister.

Likewise, though Eknath Shinde has been elected as the Shiv Sena legislature party leader, he will not get a chance to lead the government.

Though Shinde happens to be close to the Thackeray family, in 2014 he tried to cross over to the BJP when Sena chose to remain in the opposition for the first one month after the election.

Being the topmost leader of the party who carries Thackeray surname, Uddhav will be the perfect choice for the Sena. There will be no issue of his not being a member of the house earlier.

BJP leader Narendra Modi too had directly become Chief Minister of Gujarat, it is pointed out. In fact, before being sworn in as chief minister, Modi had never contested an election. Nor had he worked as a member of the State legislature.

However, Modi had good experience of having worked in the BJP organisation; likewise Uddhav, too, has the requisite experience, having played an overarching role as a de facto party president.

The BJP will also have to think twice before trying to topple a government led by Uddhav. This will place the state under Uddhav’s direct control, rather than being administered by remote.

As NCP is keen to join such a non-BJP formulation, the leader of NCP legislature party, Ajit Pawar, will be made the Deputy CM. In the past, too, he had worked as Deputy CM in the Congress and the NCP government.

The Congress, however, is still to make up its mind. One view is that it must keep the BJP at bay and this is possible only if it supports the Sena government either from within or outside.

The contrarian view is that in view of the upcoming Assembly elections in Jharkhand and Delhi, the Congress must tread warily and not alienate its ‘liberal-secular’ voter. "The secular voters may not like this," a Congress leader said.

In view of the conflicting strands, in all probability, the grand old party will opt for a middle ground and support the Sena-NCP government from outside.

However, Sharad Pawar is likely to impress upon Sonia Gandhi during his meeting on Monday that Congress must join the government to give it stability.

If the Congress agrees to join the government, it would like to have a point person in Uddhav’s inner circle – and that person can be Congress President Balasaheb Thorat, as the Deputy CM, it is pointed out.

Only Shah can swing it: Unable to broker peace, Devendra Fadnavis is heading for Delhi to meet BJP National President Amit Shah. Though the meeting is ostensibly being held to seek help for farmers hit by unseasonal rain, both are expected to delve into the issue of government formation.

Both leaders are expected to weigh the imponderables that have come into play with the NCP and the Congress ready to support a non-BJP formulation.

Uddhav has been claiming that they had agreed on CM by rotation in the presence of Amit Shah. Shah has thus far not reacted publicly to this. He has also been conspicuous by his absence in the BJP-Sena back channel negotiations. Only Shah can possibly win over the Shiv Sena. What will be the quid pro quo is another matter.