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Both camps confident, but more suspense lies ahead

Devendra Fadnavis appointed as Maharashtra CM and Ajit pawar as Deputy CM in presence of Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari at Raj Bhavan in Mumbai. (HT PHOTO)

A three-party coalition of the Shiv Sena, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress geared up for a two-front fight on the legal and legislative arena against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Saturday even as the newly sworn-in government appeared confident of a long stint in power.

All eyes are on the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to hear at 11.30 am on Sunday a petition by the three parties that argues that governor Bhagat Singh Koshyari acted in a partisan manner by calling the BJP and the splinter NCP group headed by Ajit Pawar.

“…the governor’s actions between the intervening night of 22.11.2019 and 23.11.2019 culminating to the swearing in on the 23.11.2019 are a text book example of the governor acting at the behest of a political party in power at the Centre,” the petition read.

The opposition parties, who claim they command a majority in the Maharashtra assembly, hope to convince the apex court to call for a quick floor test because they are convinced that the Devendra Fadnavis-led dispensation does not have the numbers, said people with knowledge of the matter.

In anticipation of the top court hearing, all three opposition parties also shelved plans to move their legislators out of Mumbai.

The three-judge SC bench to hear the case will have justices NV Ramana, Ashok Bhushan and Sanjiv Khanna. Justice Bhushan was also on the SC bench that heard a petition by the Congress and the Janata Dal (Secular) in 2018, and ordered the Karnataka governor to hold a floor test.

Both the BJP and the Opposition said the date for the floor test was November 30 but there was no formal confirmation of the date from the Raj Bhavan.

The BJP appeared confident of retaining its hold on power. A senior party functionary said it was relatively certain of the support of a number of independent legislators. “We are confident that most of the NCP MLAs will stay with us,” said a second party leader.

But the NCP said the Ajit Pawar’s group was destined to further splinter and said party leaders would work over the weekend to convince more lawmakers to return to the fold.

At a meeting of the party’s lawmakers late on Saturday evening, NCP spokesperson Nawab Malik claimed that only fiveMLAs were with Ajit Pawar, who was also replaced as the leader of the legislature party.

At the meeting, held at the YB Chavan Centre in south Mumbai, a number of legislators who were assumed to be with Ajit Pawar were seen walking in. They included opposition leader in the legislative council Dhananjay Munde and Sanjay Bansode, a legislator reportedly intercepted by Sena workers at a hotel near the airport.

“We had 42 legislators present in the meeting. Seven others called us and told they were on their way,” said Jayant Patil, who was elected as the new NCP legislature party chief.

Party chief Sharad Pawar alleged that his nephew Ajit may have tricked legislators.

“All the three parties (Shiv Sena, NCP and Congress) have prepared their separate list of MLAs with their signatures. Being leader of the legislative party, NCP’s list of 54 MLAs was with Ajit Pawar. And that he may have submitted the same list to the governor cannot be ruled out,” Sharad Pawar said.

Ajit Pawar remained tight-lipped through the day. Shortly after his inauguration, he had said, “The debate between the three parties was going on and on with no end in sight. I was wondering how there could be a stable government in the state. That’s why I decided to support the BJP.”

He didn’t specify how many lawmakers backed him.

The Opposition also indicated that it will protest against the BJP when Parliament’s Winter Session continues on Monday.

“The Congress will fight against this subversion of the Constitution both legally and on the floor of House by defeating the confidence motion,” said party general secretary KC Venugopal. “Only a few NCP MLAs have fallen in the trap of BJP. All other MLAs of Congress and NCP are with us. This unholy and corrupt political alliance will fall before long.”

Political analyst Neera Chandhoke questioned the lifting of President’s Rule in the state, stressing that the move was both unprecedented and dangerous for democracy.

“There a procedure for imposing and lifting the President’s Rule. It appears it was unilaterally lifted and that is dangerous for federalism,” she said.

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