Maha Drama: Fadnavis Back As CM, Ajit Pawar New Deputy CM

Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar with Maharashtra Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari at the oath-taking ceremony at the Raj Bhawan in Mumbai on Saturday.

MUMBAI - In a stunning turn of events in Maharashtra, BJP's Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday returned as Chief Minister propped up by NCP's Ajit Pawar, who was made his deputy, just hours after the new alliance of Shiv Sena, the NCP and the Congress reached a consensus that Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray will be their chief ministerial candidate.

The Shiv Sena approached the Supreme Court against the "arbitrary and malafide actions/decisions" of Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari of swearing in Fadnavis.

Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in by Koshyari at 8 am at a hush hush ceremony here after dramatic midnight developments, leading to the lifting of the President's rule in Maharashtra.

Ajit Pawar's volte face created fissures in the NCP, whose chief Sharad Pawar distanced himself from his nephew's dramatic action, saying the decision to back Fadnavis for his second consecutive term was his personal choice and not that of the party.

Later in the day, the NCP removed Ajit Pawar as the party's legislature unit head, saying his move was not in line with the party's policies. The decision was taken at the meeting of the party's legislators, where 49 of its 54 MLAs were present, sources said.

There has been no official confirmation on reports that the governor has asked Fadnavis to prove his majority in the Assembly by November 30.

There were also reports that Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar met the governor separately late last night, after which he sent a report to the Centre suggesting that the President's rule be lifted.

After the dramatic early morning swearing in, leaders of the Sena and the Congress cried foul calling the Governor's action as a murder of democracy.

While Uddav Thackeray said it is a 'furgi-cal' strike on the people of Maharashtra and they would avenge it, Sena leader Sanjay Raut accused Ajit Pawar of stabbing people of Maharashtra in the back by deciding to join hands with the BJP.

The Congress termed the swearing-in a "black chapter" in India's history, and said the BJP acted as a "contract killer" of democracy and the governor once again proved to be BJP chief Amit Shah's "hitman".

Addressing a press conference in Delhi, Congress's chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said an "opportunist" Ajit Pawar, accused by the saffron party in the past of corruption, was "scared" by the BJP of being put behind bars.

The BJP, however, asserted that it had the "electoral and moral" mandate to form a government in Maharashtra and brushed aside the criticism of its alliance with NCP leader Ajit Pawar, saying the tie-up was guided by the "given situation".

Few had an inkling of the swearing-in ceremony - which some dubbed a clandestine affair - at the sprawling Raj Bhavan in south Mumbai. The event was a far cry from Fadnavis' first such ceremony in 2014 in the packed Wankhede Stadium in presence of thousands of supporters.

The swearing-in ceremony was held soon after the President's rule, imposed on November 12, was revoked.

President Ram Nath Kovind signed the proclamation for revocation of the central rule and a gazette notification to this effect was issued at 5.47 am.

As questions cropped up whether a meeting of the Union Cabinet was held to recommend revocation of the President's rule, a senior home ministry official said the approval was given by the central government by invoking a special provision of The Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules which gives the prime minister special powers.

The Rule 12 says: "Departure from Rules.- The Prime Minister may, in any case or classes of cases, permit or condone a departure from these rules, to the extent he deems necessary".

The prime minister gave this approval, which acts as post-facto approval of the Union Cabinet, the official said.

The swearing in ceremony came as a political shocker, hours after Shiv Sena president Uddhav Thackeray emerged as the Sena-NCP-Congress' consensus candidate for the top post.

Sharad Pawar described Ajit Pawar's decision to join hands with the BJP an act of indiscipline, and said his nephew and other MLAs of the party who have switched sides would attract the provisions of the anti-defection law.

Sena leader Sanjay Raut accused Ajit Pawar of stabbing people of Maharashtra in the back by joining hands with the BJP.

Later in the day, the Sena filed a writ petition in the Supreme Court against the "arbitrary and mala fide actions and decisions" of the Maharashtra governor in swearing-in Fadnavis.

Speaking to BJP workers at the party office here, Fadnavis said he would give Maharashtra a strong government with Ajit Pawar's support.

Few had expected the month-long political impasse to end in such a dramatic manner. Pawar had on Friday night said the new government would be led by Uddhav Thackeray. The three parties had even prepared a draft common minimum programme to guide the actions of the new government.

Pawar on Saturday described Ajit Pawar's decision an act of indiscipline. Claiming that the new BJP-led dispensation would not pass the floor test, he asserted that the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress combine has the numbers and will form the government.

Pawar addressed a press conference with Uddhav Thackeray after the stunning developments of the morning.

MLAs who have defected stand to lose the membership of the Assembly, and when bypolls are held, the Congress-NCP-Sena alliance will ensure that they are defeated, he said.

Sharad Pawar said he was not aware if his nephew decided to support the BJP out of the fear of the Enforcement Directorate (ED). Ajit Pawar is among those named in the multi- crore Maharashtra State Cooperative Bank scam case.

The NCP chief also rejected the speculation that Ajit's defiance was the result of power struggle with Pawar's daughter Supriya Sule over the post of chief minister.

Pawar said the Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena, along with independents and smaller parties, have the support of 169 to 170 MLAs, and they were ready to form the government.

"Around 6.30 am-6.45 am, I got a call that some NCP legislators had been brought to Raj Bhavan. After some time, we came to know that Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar were sworn in as chief minister and deputy chief minister," he said.

Pawar said of the 10 to 11 NCP MLAs, who were present with Ajit Pawar at Raj Bhavan, three have returned to the party. "Two more are on the way," he said, adding "We have identified the legislators from TV grabs and pictures."

Rajendra Shingane from Buldhana and Sandeep Kshirsagar from Beed, who were present at the press conference, said at 12 am they got a call from Ajit Pawar, asking them to come to party leader Dhananjay Munde's residence at 7 am.

They were then taken to Raj Bhavan, the two MLAs said.

"Before we realised what was happening, we saw Devendra Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar being administered oath by the Governor," they said.

Shingane said, "When I reached Raj Bhavan, I found 8 to 10 MLAs already there. None of us realised why we were brought there. After the swearing-in, we went to meet (Sharad) Pawar saheb," he said.

"As the NCP legislature party leader, Ajit Pawar had the list of all the 54 MLAs with names, signatures and constituencies for internal party use. I presume he has submitted that list as a letter of support to the Governor. If this is true, the governor has been misled," Pawar said.

NCP MLA Dhananjay Munde, a staunch supporter of Ajit Pawar, was present at the meeting of party legislators at the Chavan centre in south Mumbai later in the day.

Uddhav Thackeray hit out at the BJP for accusing the Shiv Sena of disrespecting people's mandate.

"I heard the Union cabinet met early this morning.

Just like surgical strike against Pakistan, this was a 'furgi-cal' strike on Maharashtra... This is clear disrespect of people's mandate and the Constitution. This is a surgical strike on people of Maharashtra and they would avenge it.

"Everyone knows what Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj did when he was betrayed and attacked from behind," he said, adding that Sena workers will foil all attempts to poach party MLAs.

The day's dramatic events also led to a missing person complaint being filed for an MLA from the Sharad Pawar-led party.

Shahapur NCP MLA Daulat Daroda went 'missing' after reaching Raj Bhavan in south Mumbai the morning where Fadnavis and Ajit Pawar took oath.

Daroda had left his constituency, in neighbouring Thane, along with his son Karan on Friday night and has since been unreachable after reaching Mumbai, a police official said.

The BJP and the Sena, which fought the assembly polls in an alliance, had secured a comfortable majority by winning 105 and 56 seats respectively in the 288-member House. The Sena broke its three-decade-long ties with the BJP after the latter declined to share the chief minister's post.

The Congress and the NCP, pre-poll allies, won 44 and 54 seats respectively.

The dramatic developments in Maharashtra came after Prime Minister Narendra Modi's shout-out for Sharad Pawar's party in Parliament, while speaking on the occasion of 250th session of the Rajya Sabha.

Modi said other parties, including the BJP, should learn from the NCP and Biju Janata Dal on how to adhere to parliamentary norms.

Pawar also met Modi this week over farmers' distress in Maharashtra.

In 2016, when Modi came to the Vasantdada Sugar Institute (VSI) in Manjari on an invitation from Pawar, he had praised the NCP chief as an example to others in public life.

"I have personal respect for Pawar. I was the Gujarat chief minister that time. He helped me walk by holding my finger. I feel proud to pronounce this publicly," Modi had then said.

We have electoral, moral mandate to form Govt in Maharashtra: BJP

The BJP on Saturday asserted that it had the "electoral and moral" mandate to form a government in Maharashtra and brushed aside the criticism of its alliance with NCP leader Ajit Pawar, who was accused by the saffron party in the past of corruption, saying the tie-up was guided by the "given situation".

BJP leader and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad hit out at the Congress-NCP and the Shiv Sena, saying those who were "dead opposed" to each other joined hands to "grab" power, while the saffron party and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis had won the popular mandate to form government.

Addressing a press conference here, he said Fadnavis will give a stable, honest and effective government to the state.

The law minister said Maharashtra governor took the decision to swear-in Fadnavis and Pawar as the chief minister and the deputy chief minister after both leaders, as the heads of their respective legislative parties, gave the letters of support of their MLAs.

The governor had no counter-claim by any other party or alliance, he said.

Prasad expressed confidence that the BJP-led government enjoys the support of a majority of MLAs but did not put numbers to that, saying the floor of the Assembly is the proper place for this and an "effective majority" will be proven.

Hitting back at the Congress over its allegation of "murder of democracy" against the BJP, he said wryly that if the Sena sacrifices its principles to ally with the Congress, then this is a "respect" for democracy but if the BJP works for a stable government and is supported by a big section of the NCP, then this is against it.

He said leaders of the Congress as well as the NCP had said earlier that the mandate was for them to sit in opposition but they then got into "match-fixing" to grab power.

Asked about the BJP allying with Ajit Pawar, he said a decision was taken "given the situation" as a big like Maharashtra needs to have a stable government.

Pawar has often been accused of corruption by the BJP in the past.

Prasad said the rival parties were in a conspiracy to control India's "financial capital" (Mumbai) through back door, underlining the import of controlling power in resource-rich Maharashtra to influence national politics.

To the opposition's contention if the Union Cabinet had met to revoke the President's rule in the state, he said the prime minister has got certain power under Rule 12 of Government of India (transaction of business) rules and there is procedure for the Cabinet to give ex-facto approval to a decision.

Prasad also had strong words for the Sena, a longtime ally of the BJP which broke ties in its bid to rule the state, said the party sacrificed principles of Hindutva and nationalism of its founder Bal Thackeray in its greed for power.

Sena's leaders and Saamna, a daily run by the party, used "abuses" for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP president Amit Shah while remaining in the alliance, he said.

Noting that the BJP-Sena alliance had won a majority, the BJP leader said the "prospect" of Fadnavis becoming chief minister played a crucial role in the victory of Sena candidates and so did the support of his party's support base.

The BJP on its own won close to 70 per cent of seats it had fought, he said.

"The electoral as well as moral mandate of forming the government was with the BJP," he said, and wondered as to what was behind the Sena's "excitement" to rule the state. He, though, did not elaborate.

Asked about claims of NCP president Sharad Pawar that a majority of the party's MLAs are with him, Prasad said he will not comment on its internal matter.

In separate comments, BJP leader and Union minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said "sixer of people's mandate" has defeated "fixers".

Speaking to reporters, Naqvi said Fadnavis will give a stable, honest and effective government to the state.

"When the pitch is slippery, there is definite risk to get run out. This is the situation of the Congress and their power hungry players," he said, drawing a cricket analogy to take a swipe at BJP's rivals.

'Black chapter' in India's history, BJP 'contract killer' of democracy: Cong on Maha govt

The Congress on Saturday termed the swearing in of Devendra Fadnavis as Maharashtra chief minister a "black chapter" in India's history and asserted that the BJP acted as a "contract killer" of democracy by forming an "illegitimate" government in the state.

The opposition party also exuded confidence that a government of the Congress, the NCP and the Shiv Sena will be formed in the state.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi, Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged that the governor once again proved to be BJP chief Amit Shah's "hitman".

He alleged an "opportunist" Ajit Pawar, the NCP leader who has joined hands with the saffron party, was "scared" by the BJP of being put behind bars.

"The BJP and Ajit Pawar have acted like Duryodhan and Shakuni to rip off and cheat a democratic mandate given by the people of Maharashtra. They have actually betrayed the people," Surjewala said.

The Congress will fight against this "subversion of the Constitution" both legally and on the floor of House by defeating the confidence motion, he said.

At a press conference in Mumbai, senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel said the "clandestine" manner in which Fadnavis was sworn in as chief minister and NCP's Ajit Pawar his deputy will be written in black ink in the state's history.

Patel, accompanied by AICC general secretaries Mallikarjun Kharge and K C Venugopal, former Maharashtra chief minister Ashok Chavan, state Congress chief Balasaheb Thorat and others, dismissed allegations that the Congress delayed formation of a prospective alliance government by withholding its consent for such an arrangement.

The senior Congress leaders were in Mumbai to hold talks with the Sena and the NCP to finalise details of government formation.

Patel accused the BJP of crossing the limits of "shamelessness" and "shattering" democracy after the Amit Shah-led party formed the government due to a coup by NCP chief Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar.

He, however, said the Sena-Congress-NCP combine will defeat the BJP during the floor test, and the alliance of the three parties will form the government.

The three parties will fight the situation on both the political and the legal fronts, said Patel, who has been at the forefront of the Congress, NCP and Sena negotiations.

BJP's Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday returned as Maharashtra chief minister, propped by NCP's Ajit Pawar, even as NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the decision to side with Fadnavis was his nephew's personal choice and not that of the party.

Governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari administered the oath to Fadnavis and Pawar at the Raj Bhavan in Mumbai around 7.30 am.

Surjewala also posed questions for the BJP, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Amit Shah, such as when was the claim of forming the government presented before the governor, how many MLAs of the BJP and the NCP signed on the claim, and when and how did the governor verify those signatures.

He also asked at what time did the governor recommend removal of President's rule, at what time did the Union Cabinet meet last night, who were the ministers present and when did the Union Cabinet recommend to remove the President's rule from Maharashtra.

Surjewala said in the history of independent India, this may be the only occasion when in the dead of the night, the Constitution was "subverted, democracy was throttled and rule of law was mowed down by a governor to surreptitiously induct an illegitimate government of the BJP".

"November 23 shall go down in the history of India as a black chapter when an illegitimate government was constituted by a governor acting as a hitman on the Constitution of India at the instance of a home minister who considers the Constitution as his captive instrument," Surjewala said.

"After scaring an opportunist Ajit Pawar of putting him behind bars, the BJP constituted an illegitimate government in Maharashtra by acting as a contract killer of democracy," he said.

Surjewala said that prior to the elections, Fadnavis and the BJP had promised to send Ajit Pawar to Arthur Road Jail in the Rs 72,000-crore irrigation scam case, but post the election they have made him the deputy chief minister.

"This is only possible in the Modi regime that is why they say 'Modi hai to mumkin hai' (It is possible under Modi)," he said.

Earlier, Patel said all the MLAs of the Congress were "intact".

"Only two MLAs are in their (respective) villages. They are ready to defeat the BJP. The government of Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress will be formed," he said.

Asked if the Congress MLAs will be shifted somewhere else to see they not poached ahead of the floor test, Patel said the parties will work out a strategy.

"There was neither band-baja (celebration) nor a procession as the chief minister, the deputy chief minister were sworn-in in a clandestine manner...the incident will be written in black ink in Maharashtra's history," Patel told reporters.

He also refused to comment when asked by a journalist whether he believed in NCP chief Sharad Pawar's comment that the latter was clueless about Ajit's move.

He also said that there was consensus among the Congress, NCP and the Sena on Uddhav Thackeray becoming the chief minister.

"Of course, it is sad. We are disappointed and it is very unfortunate," Patel said, when asked if the Congress was disappointed that a close confidant of Pawar joined hands with the BJP.

 

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