Though Maharashtra Governor has sworn in Devendra Fadnavis as chief minister and the new found friend who till recently was a foe, Ajit Pawar as deputy chief minister on Saturday within an hour of sun rise, none is sure of the new government enjoying majority support in the state assembly. Aware of the situation, the Governor has given time till November 30th to Fadnavis to prove his majority. In fact, all contenders to the throne in Maharashtra are now engaged in grabbing the loyalty of MLAs through varied means.
To put it differently, the poaching has begun and all party leaders have as a first step started moving their MLAs to safe havens. Congress is moving its MLAs to Jaipur where their security and keeping them safe from poachers is assured, as Congress is in power in Jaipur. Shiv Sena has kept its MLAs in Hotel Lalit in Mumbai which is more or less under SS control. The NCP and BJP have at the moment kept their MLAs in Mumbai but it shouldn’t be a surprise if they are moved and kept incommunicado away from the wily eyes of political horse traders.
The fact is that non contending political alliance has till now the needed 144 support in Maha assembly. Sharad Pawar was the first to make the move to keep his flock together. Though the Saturday morning rumours in Mumbai was that Ajit Pawar has changed his master and moved to BJP for a plum post with 35 MLAs, soon it became apparent that the number was an exaggeration. Pawar presented three of the MLAs who were in Raj Bhavan at the time of swearing in before the media. It is believed that Ajit Pawar has now 5 MLAs who have been flown to New Delhi and been safely placed together. Interestingly, Sharad Pawar was engaged in bringing Ajit, his nephew, who is staying in a flat in Napean Sea Road, back to the NCP fold and a few senior party veterans were engaged in persuading him to return to the family fold. Pawar has kept the suspension orders to Ajit for indiscipline pending and is trying a last minute effort. Being an eternal optimist, the senior Pawar is known for his tremendous patience and moving slow and steady before taking any decision which may lead to a point of no return.
Of course, these are initial steps. As days progress, the offers would be more substantial: ministerial berths, chairmanship of PSUs, positions in the legislature party and other lucrative offers. This of course is for the first round. There are other irresistible offers too. In some states there was virtual trading to buy the loyalties. The guiding principle is: People change their masters for their own betterment.
Desperate moves to win the support of MLAs will intensify as November 30th nears. Ruling Maharashtra is no small matter. Governing the highly prosperous state and financial capital of India has its own advantages and benefits. Reports of various means to win over the MLAs would surface as the week progresses.
On the first day one saw efforts to keep the supporting MLAs in safe custody beyond the reach of poachers and professional political horse traders. There would also be threats of criminal proceedings for past actions and misdoings if shifting loyalties is resisted to. Some MLAs will try to move out of the safe camps for better deals too if one goes by past records.
Needless to add, in such operations the party in power in New Delhi or state capital is advantageously placed. With so many veterans known for winning over loyalties of elected representatives now in the field to seize power in Maharashtra, next week may throw up many new interesting tricks of the game.