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Governor invites Shiv Sena to stake claim after BJP backs off

Governor invites Shiv Sena to stake claim after BJP backs off

Mumbai: Hours after the BJP declined to form government in Maharashtra on Sunday night, Governor Bhagat Singh Khoshyari asked the Shiv Sena to "indicate the willingness and ability" of the party to stake a claim, mounting suspense over the formation of the government.

The Sena, the second-largest party in the 288-member House after the BJP (105), has time till 7:30 pm on November 11, to stake the claim.

Koshyari asked Sena legislative party leader Eknath Shinde to "indicate willingness and ability" of the party to form government in Maharashtra, a Raj Bhavan statement said.

After the governor's communication, newly-elected Sena MLAs, currently staying at a suburban hotel in Mumbai, went into a huddle. They later moved to Matoshree, the Bandra residence of the party chief Uddhav Thackeray, for another meeting.

The fast-paced developments seem to have increased the bargaining power of opposition Congress and NCP, as the Sena, which has 56 MLAs, is far away from the halfway mark of 145.

A day after the governor asked the BJP to indicate its willingness and ability to form a government, caretaker Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis informed him about the party's inability to do so due to lack of enough numbers.

The role of the Congress (44 MLAs) and the NCP (54 MLAs) which have 98 members together, is crucial now.

If the Sena decides to form a government with the support of Opposition parties, the collective strength of all the three parties will go up to 154 in the House, just above the halfway mark.

While the Congress is holding up its cards, the NCP made it clear that the Sena would have to break away from the NDA before the Sharad Pawar-led party can think of lending support to the Uddhav Thackeray's party.

However, Sena leader Sanjay Raut appeared unfazed and said his party would install its chief minister at any cost.

Sharing of power, especially the post of the chief minister on a rotational basis, was the bone of contention between the Sena and the BJP which resulted in a deadlock.

The Sena and the BJP have been locked in a bitter tussle over sharing of the post of the chief minister since the last 16 days when the results of the assembly polls were announced.

Fadnavis had rejected Thackeray's claims that BJP chief Amit Shah was agreed to his demand for a rotational chief ministership ahead of Lok Sabha polls.

Announcing the party's decision not to form a government on Sunday evening, state BJP chief Chandrakant Patil accused the Uddhav Thackeray-led party of "disrespecting" the popular mandate secured by the NDA in recent assembly polls.

The governor had on Saturday invited the BJP to "indicate the willingness and ability" to form a government by virtue of it being the single largest party.

Patil wished "good luck" to the Sena to go ahead and form a government with the support of the Congress and the NCP. Earlier in the day, Raut appeared sending feelers to the Congress and the NCP.

When a reporter pointed out that the Sena was not criticising the opposition NCP in the wake of a possible alliance between the two parties, Raut said, "We have not criticised the BJP either. The election campaign is over, and things said during the campaign are irrelevant."

On if the Congress will support the Shiv Sena to form a government, Raut said the Sonia Gandhi-led party is "not enemy of Maharashtra".

"If Congress leaders have taken any decision to ensure a stable government in Maharashtra, we welcome it," he said.

Every political party has differences with the other party. Like, the Sena and BJP differ on the issue of a border dispute between Maharashtra and Karnataka over Belagavi (Belgaum) district, Raut said.

After the BJP's announcement, he said, "Maharashtra will have Sena's chief minister at any cost. Uddhav Thackeray on Sunday informed the party MLAs that Sena would have its chief minister."

"How will BJP have its chief minister when they are not staking a claim to form a government," Raut added.

As the focus shifts to the Sena camp, senior Congress leader Ashok Chavan said the party didn't want President's rule in Maharashtra.

Newly-elected MLAs of Congress are currently staying in Jaipur.

NCP chief spokesperson Nawab Malik told reporters on Sunday that the Sena needs to first exit from the NDA as it has one cabinet post (in the Narendra Modi government).

"Unless it leaves the NDA, we will wait and watch the developments," he said.

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