MUMBAI: A day after Maharashtra Assembly polls gave a fractured verdict, major political parties today went into a huddle exploring ways for government formation but the picture remained nebulous with speculation rife about whether it will be an NCP-propped BJP ministry or a coalition regime with Shiv Sena.
The stand-off between former allies BJP and Shiv Sena, whose coming together will obviate the need for an outside support from NCP, continued even after Uddhav Thackeray's phone call to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP Chief Amit Shah on Sunday to congratulate them on the party's electoral triumph in Maharashtra and Haryana.
The newly elected Shiv Sena MLAs met and authorised party President Uddhav Thackeray to choose their leader in the House but there was no discussion at the meeting on reviving the 25-year-old alliance that fell apart just before the election following failure of seat-sharing talks.
"All the newly elected MLAs met Uddhavji today and they unanimously took a decision to give him the right of choosing the legislative party leader," Sena MP Sanjay Raut said after the meeting.
"Today's meet was not about the BJP. Therefore, we haven't discussed BJP at all. A final decision will be taken by Uddhavji and conveyed to the media in due course," he said.
Another Sena MP Anil Desai said "no overture" was made to BJP on a reunion and the meeting was called just to authorise Uddhav to select a new legislature party leader.
Om Mathur, BJP's Assembly poll incharge, said the party was "open to all" in its quest for forming government "but there has been no proposal" from Shiv Sena.
"In the interest of Maharashtra and for government formation, all doors are open," he said when asked if BJP had accepted NCP's offer of outside support.
BJP General Secretary incharge of Maharashtra Rajiv Pratap Rudy said Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and another General Secretary J P Nadda, appointed observers for election of the legislature party leader, will discuss "in depth" the issue of ties with Sena.
"After Rajnath Singh and J P Nadda arrive, the top BJP leadership will have a conclusive statement as to how we are going to proceed with our alliance. As of now, BJP is confining itself to that it is going to stake the claim for chief ministership of Maharashtra," he said.
Singh and Nadda are likely to arrive here on Monday night.
He also said BJP Parliamentary Board, the party's highest decision-making body, had not discussed NCP's offer.
As the picture remained hazy, NCP Chief Sharad Pawar defended the party's decision to extend "outside support" to BJP, which has emerged as the largest party in the 288-member Assembly with 122 seats, saying it was the "best alternative" to usher in a "stable" government.
"Offering outside support to BJP was the best among alternatives before us. We have to ensure a stable government comes in Maharashtra," Pawar said, addressing newly elected MLAs after nephew and former Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar was elected leader of the NCP legislature party.
Pawar said no other combination was feasible going by the number of seats won by major parties.
Ajit Pawar claimed he was approached by a Congress leader who proposed forming a coalition government with Congress, NCP and Shiv Sena as constituents.
"A Congress leader contacted me on phone and suggested we form a government that also includes Shiv Sena...I told him together we have 146 MLAs and the government thus cobbled together will not be stable," he said.
While Congress has 42 MLAs in the 288-member Assembly, NCP has 41 and Shiv Sena 63.
Though BJP has emerged as the largest party in the House with 122 seats and its ally Rashtriya Samaj Paksha one, it is still 22 seats short of the magic figure of 145.
As BJP was certain to form government, political circles were abuzz about the prospective chief minister but state party President Devendra Fadnavis looked a clear favourite.
Though names of Leader of Opposition in the outgoing Assembly Eknath Khadse, his counterpart in the Legislative Council Vinod Tawde, who has won the Assembly election, former state BJP Chief Sudhir Mungantiwar, Pankaja Munde, daughter of Union Minister late Gopinath Munde, are doing the rounds as top contenders, young Fadnavis looked like having an edge.
The 44-year-old fourth-term MLA from Nagpur, who has a clean image, has roots in RSS and had come in for special praise by Narendra Modi who described him as "Nagpur's gift to the nation" at an election rally.
As the youngest mayor of Nagpur aged 27, Fadnavis had introduced the popular scheme of publicly maintained toilets in the city, something that would not escape Modi's notice, especially after the much-publicised launch of his own "Swachch Bharat' campaign.